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UCLA’s online classes provide flexibility but fail to deliver on diversity, quality

The selection of online coursework at UCLA excludes many STEM courses. At the same time, online course design has been generally lackluster – something UCLA should address.
(Daily Bruin file photo)

By Navdeep Bal

Aug. 11, 2019 10:43 p.m.

In this day and age, the internet is used for everything.

Everything except teaching classes at groundbreaking research universities, that is.

Currently, UCLA offers just under 60 online classes total, which generally last six to eight weeks, on myUCLA for undergraduates during the summer session. More courses are offered during the regular school year. In these courses, students mainly interact with professors and teaching assistants through online interfaces such as CCLE or Zoom.

These classes provide students with flexible avenues for receiving the quality education they deserve – education is not a one size fits all affair, and online courses are a solution to this.

At least they should be.

Online classes have the potential to be an incredible resource for students, but they are grossly underutilized. Expanding the diversity and quantity of classes offered would foster a greater learning community – allowing UCLA students to reap the many benefits online courses have to offer.

Time flexibility remains an alluring quality of online classes, says Hannah Hansen, a rising third-year undeclared student who took Theater 10: “Introduction to Theater” last summer.

“I could take the class on my own terms,” Hansen said. “I could fit more into my day and it was more productive.”

But not everyone has that option, largely due to the extremely limited amount of classes offered. Of the listed online summer classes, a majority of them are for fulfilling basic GE requirements.

In addition, only a small fraction of majors of the 130 undergraduate majors offered at UCLA are represented, and a smaller portion of these represented majors are STEM.

The flexibility of online classes needs to be a viable option for every student, not just a handful. And these classes need to be on par with the quality education expected of UCLA.

A vital aspect of learning is the community fostered within a classroom. Being able to communicate with one another is how students improve their own education and their peers’ – but this is an experience many online classes fail to provide.

Valerie Wu, a rising second-year chemistry student, said she took Linguistics 1: “Introduction to the Study of Language” this summer and noted that a benefit of the course was that students could attend any discussion section, adding to the flexibility.

But the structure of the sections still deprives students from an open flow of conversation necessary to learning.

“To keep the discussion sections more engaging, it would’ve been more beneficial for me if it was in person,” Wu said.

The absence of discussion can be a major drawback to students’ learning experiences, as it limits what they gain from the course. Creating a connection with educators and peers is vital to a student’s engagement with the subject material and in improving their abilities.

Cara Drake, a rising second-year applied mathematics student, took Ancient Near East 15W: “Women and Power in Ancient World” during winter quarter and listed many of the same problems as other students.

“That was a downside, the lack of discussion,” Drake said. “We didn’t have any discussions online where you post questions and other people could respond.”

Marilyn Love, a TA for Ancient Near East 15W, noted that her peers have worked to improve the community within the course, and said she has seen major improvements in performance from her students because of it.

“We wanted students to interact with each other and feel like they were part of a classroom or a learning community, instead of just doing everything on their own,” said Love.

Every student has their own unique living situation and online classes help to accommodate different schedules – whether that be because of athletics, internships, families or jobs. Online classes are used to cater to flexible schedules, but there is more to it than that.

“It plays to the strengths of this generation of students, which is that many of them are very technologically literate in that the way that they communicate with friends and family members and loved ones,” said Love.

Love is correct – our generation has the advantage of great technological literacy.

At the hands of UCLA, though, it’s being squandered as a potential resource by a lack of comprehensive online courses.

This lack of personal connection between educator and pupil can be detrimental to the student, but many solutions exist. The example of Ancient Near East 15W demonstrates a good start, but other classes must follow suit.

Granted, certain classes may be difficult to translate into an online format. For instance, STEM courses might prove more difficult than humanities courses due to the hands-on nature of labs. But there are many scientific resources online that provide promising alternatives to a hands-on approach for STEM classes, especially for those that are increasingly technology-based. And for a top public university, UCLA might be able to come up with a few technology-driven teaching methods to fill in the gaps.

Bruins deserve high quality education, regardless of what medium they decide to take a class in. And at the very least, they shouldn’t have to suffer the consequences of a subpar class structure just because it was only offered online.

With continual work to improve the quantity of and engagement in these classes, the university could gain access to untapped potential.

And given the opportunity, online classes at UCLA might just catch up to the students they aim to teach.

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Navdeep Bal | Assistant Opinion editor
Bal is a 2021-2022 assistant Opinion editor. She has been a columnist for four years, covering stories from UCLA student life to California politics. She is currently a fourth-year political science and sociology student.
Bal is a 2021-2022 assistant Opinion editor. She has been a columnist for four years, covering stories from UCLA student life to California politics. She is currently a fourth-year political science and sociology student.
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