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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Zoom U was very bad for students

College students are not OK, writes Jonathan Malesic, who teaches first-year writing at Southern Methodist University, in a New York Times commentary.

Photo: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

Remote high school and college classes have left students apathetic and silent. They’re still on mute.

Last fall, he was teaching at a private and at a public university.  “By several measures — attendance, late assignments, quality of in-class discussion — they performed worse than any students I had encountered in two decades of teaching,” he writes. “They didn’t even seem to be trying.” 

When The Chronicle of Higher Education asked college instructors about their classes, “they, too, reported poor attendance, little discussion, missing homework and failed exams,” writes Malesic.

The pandemic certainly made college more challenging for students, and over the past two years, compassionate faculty members have loosened course structures in response: They have introduced recorded lectures, flexible attendance and deadline policies, and lenient grading. In light of the widely reported mental health crisis on campuses, some students and faculty members are calling for those looser standards and remote options to persist indefinitely, even as vaccines and Covid therapies have made it relatively safe to return to prepandemic norms. . . . the learning breakdown has convinced me that continuing to relax standards would be a mistake. Looser standards are contributing to the problem, because they make it too easy for students to disengage from classes.

Malesic finds a university where there is no breakdown in learning. It’s the University of Dallas, a small, conservative Catholic university with a great-books curriculum.

University of Dallas reopened in fall 2020, giving students less time in Zoom U.

He visited a first-year English class in which students “debated the syllabic rhythm in the last two lines of Paradise Lost.” They laughed at the instructor’s jokes, marvels Malesic. “Just about everyone spoke up, sharing observations, questions and even a complaint about a William Carlos Williams poem.”

Of course, students who choose a great-books curriculum probably are more motivated than the average student.

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