As the majority of Tufts students adjust back to campus life in hopes of reclaiming a normal academic experience, those taking classes remotely face their own unique challenges. In the past six months, Tufts has made notable strides to accommodate remote and hybrid learners, including developing online learning technology and platforms, allowing students to elect the Exceptional Pass/Fail option for their fall courses and accepting community college transfer credits. Despite these efforts, discrepancies in the quality of education accessed by in-person and remote students inevitably remain; remote students cannot access the same resources, collaborative experiences or social connections as their in-person peers. As Tufts grapples with this new hybrid reality, it is crucial that administrators and professors alike continue to actively support remote students by instituting flexible academic policies and finding innovative alternatives to in-person learning.
As we experienced last spring, learning from home presents a variety of challenges for students, ranging from varying time zones to unstable internet connection to a lack of a consistent workplace. In contrast to last semester, however, remote students will face these challenges alone while many of their peers are on campus. Without this shared experience, taking classes from home can be particularly isolating and mentally taxing.
This rift between in-person and remote experiences is widened by disparities in accessing academic resources. Students attending remotely, though provided with online alternatives, cannot take advantage of certain critical learning opportunities found only in hands-on activities. Without access to interdisciplinary spaces on campus such as Tufts’ computer labs, libraries and studio spaces, remote students will not have the same technology for research or participation in classes. Such differences disproportionately affect students taking classes that prioritize in-person attendance, such as engineering, laboratory science or SMFA classes. Furthermore, remote students do not have the same opportunities to collaborate in person with their peers to complete group projects or homework. As a result, remote students may have more trouble keeping up with assignments and understanding course material than students on campus.
To bridge disparities between in-person and remote experiences, Tufts faculty members must continue their trend of flexibility and empathy toward remote students by being sensitive to their varying circumstances. For students living outside of the Eastern time zone, professors should make every effort to offer recorded lectures, flexible starting times for exams, freely available online course materials and alternative office hours. Professors should also work to foster hybrid channels of collaboration and student engagement, such as Canvas discussions, collaboration on Google documents or asynchronous group projects.
Just as connection in classrooms is limited for remote students, so is the ability to develop social relationships. Without the ability to see friends, attend in-person club meetings or play sports, remote students will not have access to the same social outlets or de-stressors, leading to potential feelings of isolation and anxiety. Tufts should facilitate community building and social connection by developing online platforms where students can connect outside of class and find a sense of community. Student organizations must also be sure to give all remote students an equal opportunity to join their clubs and participate in on-campus meetings and initiatives. Maintaining these connections will be vital to laying the framework for resilience and revitalization for semesters to come.
To stay true to its promise to “deliver the high-quality academic programs and services that students and their families expect from a Tufts education,” Tufts must continually guarantee that remote students’ qualities of education are not jeopardized by their decisions to attend remotely. In this moment of separation and unprecedented change, it is more important than ever to cultivate community and inclusivity, both on and off campus.