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Graphic created by production assistant Lilly LaFemina.

Professors need to restructure online classes. Here’s how.

With school rendered to the online realm, many professors have been unwilling to modify the structure of their classes to account for the hefty disadvantages of this new era of learning.

Instead, professors have been trying to replicate the previous methods of our in-person learning by simply transplanting the material we would otherwise normally be learning to online, neglecting to consider the numerous obstacles that are obstructing students’ academic performance — suboptimal work environments, personal grievances and technological hindrances, just to name a few.

“It’s like everything in the outside world has changed yet nothing has changed in our education,” senior psychology B.S. major, Aisha Farooq said. “Professors are still operating classes exactly the same and expecting the same level of productivity from students.”

During the first week of virtual classes, my professors briefly addressed the pandemic, inviting us to individually conference with them if at some point we found these difficult times impairing our academic ability, but that was it. A pitiful cursory acknowledgement was all students like me got and then it was back to “normal” — back to the same workload, the same homework assignments, the same exams, as if our entire education system hasn’t been completely uprooted.

Students want tangible action, not just shallow words stating that you’re “here” for us. Professors, why not extend support by reassessing your expectations and stop trying to replicate the rigor of our in-person learning, especially without first recognizing the ways in which students have been uniquely affected by this global pandemic?

As an English literature and media and communication studies major, I can attest to professors still assigning 80+ pages of reading within the span of two days and expecting us to come prepared to class with full-fledged notes, eager to have an intellectually fruitful discussion. When we don’t, professors are displeased by the lack of student engagement.

With so many threads unraveling in students’ lives, it’s vital that professors distill their courses to the fundamentals and carefully consider their course objectives. From here, professors can then move forward to examine extraneous areas and either trim or remove these sections.

Right now less is more, and ancillary material is only more of a disservice to students than a benefit. The job of a professor isn’t to overload students with infeasible amounts of schoolwork; it’s to serve as a source of knowledge and effectively facilitate students’ learning which, in this case, means solely teaching the indispensable components.

This simplistic approach echoes the KISS principle, meaning “keep it simple, stupid” and underscores the idea that simplicity is paramount to success.

By only teaching the chief components of classes, students will have more time to master essential material in greater depth rather than exhausting themselves with subordinate material. Likewise, this allows professors to remodel their pedagogy to ensure that it’s conducive to the countless variables of online learning and students’ substandard circumstances.

Junior physics major Maggie Williams also expressed frustration with the architecture of her classes, highlighting a different area of concern. “I have a three-hour lab and the professor just breaks us out into small groups to complete an assignment. I’m not going to talk or sit with my individual groups for three hours. I would do that in in-person classes, but online…. that’s just ridiculous.”

If professors mandate group assignments during labs, they need to give students the choice to complete these assignments asynchronously. In-person group work is inherently challenging to begin with due to unequal participation, causing other students to be disproportionately burdened with larger segments of the assignment.

Not to mention, prolonged synchronous assignments, especially ones that are three hours, are impractical. Considering that the average person’s attention span is eight seconds, student engagement is bound to dwindle in our education’s newly digitized landscape, especially if there’s no direct presence of the professor to facilitate learning. Students should be given the option to complete these group assignments on their own time, allowing them, if they wish, to collectively divide the work into manageable chunks over a few days.

While I understand and can appreciate professors’ desire to preserve our previous mode of learning, the reality is, life has radically changed which calls for a radical change in our system of learning.

Although the show must go on, professors need to seriously begin running the show differently — in a manner that’s realistic, accommodates students’ new baseline of productivity and is actually favorable to our academic success.