The Case for Choosing Remote-Only Learning 

Jesse Lowe, Scarlet Staff

Before we all choose our classes for the spring semester, I need the entire student body to take a moment to remember that it is okay to stay at home and learn remotely. 

This past week, we’ve been overwhelmed by COVID-related news. There was some positive news, with a vaccine that appears to be 95% effective at preventing COVID-19 infections. On the other hand, the United States has repeatedly set new records for the number of cases recorded each day, and the CDC describes hotspots as being “really in all parts of the country.”  

Here on Clark’s campus, students woke up on November 16th to the news that five new positive COVID-19 tests had come back overnight and that we are officially moving to “Alert Level 3.” This means that all in-person classes and labs are cancelled, and “students living on campus are expected to stay in residence halls except for essential services like dining, which is all grab-and-go.” These last few days that some students spend on campus will be jarring and difficult, to say the least. 

Even if you’ve never thought about it before, now is the time to seriously consider what it would be like to learn remotely next semester. I didn’t consider taking a remote semester until July, and, at the time, I felt like I rushed the decision to stay home this fall. Now that I’ve survived the majority of the semester at home, I can honestly say that it was the right decision for me. If they would think deeply about the possibility and the reality of the pandemic’s trajectory, it could be the right decision for many other Clarkies as well. 

At the start of the summer, Clarkies seemed to be giving a lot of thought to remote-only learning. Over 600 people signed a petition saying they wanted all Clark students to stay home. Even after the University announced that all students were welcome back on campus for the fall semester, 900 students across the undergraduate and graduate schools chose to learn remotely during the fall semester. I would not be surprised if during the spring semester, those numbers remain stable or even increase. 

Why learn remotely? 

Realistically, the COVID-19 situation is significantly worse than it was in the summer, and we know for a fact that it will continue to deteriorate, at least until the weather and the Executive branch of our country change. If the pandemic was bad enough in August that 900 of us chose to stay home, it should logically be the case that more of us will look at the forecasts for the spring and choose to stay home as well. 

The more people stay home, the easier it will be to stay home. There will be more participation at remote-only gatherings. There will be a broader range of remote experiences for us to draw hope and advice from. Now that so many students and staff alike have made it through a whole semester of making remote-only learning work, I have hope that the spring semester will be easier for all of us. The worst of the trouble-shooting and technology glitches should be out of the way. 

The more people stay home, the easier it will be for those who need to be on campus to exist there safely. There will be fewer people cluttering the cafeteria, the library, and the common spaces in residence halls. There will be fewer people sharing bathrooms and relying on the same testing facilities. If the density of students on Clark’s campus is lower, there is a much greater likelihood of students making it through a whole semester on Alert Level 2, where some in-person classes and common spaces are available. The Main South community absolutely cannot handle another semester of college students hosting parties or even just wandering the streets without masks on. 

It is an enormous privilege that we Clarkies had the opportunity to go to school in-person at all. A huge number of our fellow college students, as well as our younger counterparts in elementary and secondary education, did not have that choice and they will continue to not have that choice until the COVID-19 pandemic is under control. None of us as individuals can make that happen, but collectively, the decision to live in a smaller household than a dorm and to eliminate indoor, in-person activities like classes and on-campus meetings from our schedules will make a positive difference. 

Special Considerations 

Of course, each student must make their own decision about whether to come to Clark on campus or stay home. There are many, many people who need to be on campus for the sake of their health and learning, and it’s wonderful that the University is committed to keeping that option open. 

For many students, attending Clark in-person is an escape from emotional and physical abuse and violence at home. Campus may be the only place that they can access health services that they need. Students with certain learning disabilities and other special needs may find that learning remotely is not feasible for them. On the other hand, other disabilities and specific health situations may mandate that a student learns remotely. For some, it’s not economically viable to come to Clark in person, while for others, it’s not economically viable to stay home.  

Every person’s needs are different, and no one owes an explanation of their decision to anyone else. What we do owe to each other is our careful and balanced consideration of whether learning remotely or in person is better, not only for ourselves, but for our entire community.