Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Online Learning Platforms Promote Higher Education Equity


When colleges and universities transitioned online during the pandemic, issues of equity and access became readily apparent. While some students had stable Wi-Fi connections and quiet spaces to study, others cared for sick family members and worked during the day.

Virtual learning showed the stark differences in opportunity between students with resources and students without; some could afford fast Wi-Fi, a new laptop, or a tutor to help them when they struggled, but others could not.

Every person in higher education should be working to close these gaps.

Educational Equity

I have the honor of serving as the current student body president at Washington University in St. Louis.

In my position, I’ve seen firsthand the importance of student voices in the education space, as I’ve focused on representing the needs of students in meetings with administrators and faculty.

Educational equity should be central to considerations about policy changes, and to support students, we must equip them with a diverse range of affordable, accessible tools which empower them to succeed.

Cost of College

Already, there are enough stressors that inhibit student success. For example, many students make massive financial investments to attend college.

Around 30 percent of American adults still held student loan debt in 2020. As the cost of college continues to rise alongside our growing student loan debt crisis, the pressure for students to achieve academic success continues to mount.

Money with a note reading "Student debt"
The US currently has a whopping $1.58 trillion in outstanding student loan debt. Photo: Shutterstock

Unfortunately, less than half of all full-time American college students pursuing a bachelor’s degree earn a diploma within four years. To make matters worse, millions of students never finish their degrees at all, finding themselves in substantial debt with no diploma to show for it.

Technology in Education

To cope with these heightened stakes and ensure academic achievement, many students rely on supplementary support in addition to the instruction they receive in the classroom.

While faculty are the backbone of higher education, they are also constrained by time and energy. Outside of office hours, professors can offer limited help. Alternatives, such as campus tutors, may not provide the level or types of expertise students may need.

Thankfully, technology offers the solutions to these challenges. Today, students have access to online resources that can close resource gaps and offer supplementary support.

Through a quick Google search, students can find video lectures or articles on any subject imaginable. On YouTube, channels such as Crash Course and Khan Academy teach skills in various fields and offer practice problems to help students augment what they learn in school.

Additionally, when students need more personalized assistance, supplemental learning platforms, such as Chegg and Quizlet, can offer students practice questions and step-by-step walkthroughs for more complex subjects.

Vital Assistance of Online Platforms

These programs offer vital assistance when other areas of higher education are unable to.

However, many administrators across the country have begun to take hardline stances against using these online tools, discouraging or penalizing students who use them and arguing that students cannot be trusted to use online platforms for learning.

While there are students who will misuse these tools, blanket restrictions and bans neglect the majority of students who use them to supplement their learning in essential ways.

Punishing entire campus communities for the violations of a select few further tilts the playing field in favor of students with resources and against students without.

Group of diverse students wearing protective medical masks and using laptops to study
Online resources can close resource gaps and offer supplementary support to students who need it. Photo: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock

Academic integrity is and should always be paramount in higher education, but policies banning or restricting these online supplemental learning platforms are not the right solutions to the problem.

Instead, they hurt our most vulnerable students by removing valuable, affordable, and accessible resources to understand course materials and study for tests.

Administrators and faculty must listen to student leaders and consider student perspectives before condemning the use of platforms designed to assist students in their learning.

Without thorough consideration, reactionary policies will only endanger the academic success of our students while failing to resolve the root issues that lead to cheating and academic misconduct.

Ranen Miao is Student Union President at Washington University in St. Louis.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The College Post.

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