Online courses are failing students

Students deserve a pass/fail option

Michael Sicoli, Associate Opinion Editor

While there were many ways I saw my first year of college going, being cut off early by a global pandemic was not one of them. 

As we all know, COVID-19 has effectively ended our spring 2020 semester halfway through. I loved my first year at Quinnipiac, my home away from home, and could not ask for a better group of friends or a better situation for me to learn in. 

I could go on forever about how much being away from campus pains me, but I need to focus on what is happening now. Quinnipiac has shifted to online classes for students so they can still receive their planned credits. Whether it is through Zoom conferences, online modules or simply a syllabus, the university has provided students with a way to continue learning.

But online classes are not working. Plain and simple. 

I recognize that there are few alternatives in this situation. But given how hastily professors had to scrape together a revised syllabus, no one in his or her right mind can say that this is an equal learning experience. If classes are no longer equal, offering a pass/fail option is only fair.

Illustration by Kara Kachmar
A pass/fail option would make grading fair in this unprecedented time.

As a journalism major, my writing-based classes are incredibly important. For example, JRN 260 — News Writing —  was one of my favorite courses. Each class was incredibly engaging, and I left the classroom knowing a different way to approach a story. But this discussion-filled learning environment has been replaced by PowerPoints and Zoom conferences featuring my spotty Wi-Fi. It is impossible to interview people in-person for stories due to the virus, and interviews over text will not replicate this experience. 

My JRN 106 — Multimedia Production Technology — course was impacted even more by the switch to online sessions. The course revolves around two-week projects in which we rent out AC90 cameras, tripods, lavalier microphones and more to shoot footage and use computers on campus with Adobe Premiere to edit videos. Without those cameras and other equipment, even with Adobe kindly giving university students free Adobe programs, the experience students will receive from this class will remain hindered. Once more, as a journalism major, creating video packages is prevalent with any job related to television. 

Don’t blame professors for this. After all, changing the entire course midway through the semester is a steep demand. But in regards to the final product, the online courses being offered, they do not provide the same value as on-campus classes. 

If the value is not equal, then there are steps that should be taken. Whatever help is being provided through reimbursements, none of it will benefit students during this semester. Students should not be paying full price for half the learning experience. When one considers how expensive Quinnipiac is, as much as students may love it, it is hard to justify paying that much purely for online courses. 

Given that the school is going through steep budget cuts yet again, I’m sure the school won’t help us out if it has to reduce salaries for faculty and staff. Doing what’s right cannot always be prioritized. 

As mentioned earlier, there is not much we can do to fix the disparity between in-person classes and online classes. But an option exists to make the experience more fair.

Give students a pass/fail option.

Students should not have their grades suffer because of an unforeseen switch to a completely different class format. Plenty of people rely heavily on their grade point average (GPA) to maintain and receive scholarships. 

Every-day schedules are different at home rather than being on campus. International students are worse off than most. No longer living in the same time zone, some students have to wake up early in the morning, or at night for classes. My roommate is from New Zealand, for example. He has to wake up at 2 a.m. for an acting class. How can he still reach the high bar he set for himself earlier this year when he needs to change his entire sleeping schedule on top of the other challenges this online conversion has caused?

This world is more stressful than ever and putting the complications of online classes with no pass/fail option is a huge burden for students worried about their GPA. A “pass” would not affect a student’s current GPA — perfect for students who have struggled to make the change to online courses mid-semester. 

Teachers are also not adequately prepared for this change to an online format. This is a drastic difference from leading a classroom each day. Access to Wi-Fi for students and teachers alike can be spotty at home, which provides yet another challenge offered by online courses. 

While an unprecedented time, this is not an unprecedented decision. Rowan University has announced that it will be giving its students a pass/no credit option after final grades are released. Students can decide whether they want a letter grade, a “pass” or if it comes to it, “no credit.” Having the option to choose allows students to still strive for a good grade while relieving the stress that this pandemic has levied on us.

University at Buffalo is offering pass/fail options for most classes that are not prerequisites. Some majors like physical therapy also require their courses to not include that option.

University of Delaware also allows their students to exercise a pass/fail option if they choose to do so after final grades are released. The pass/fail option will not impact student’s scholarships if they need a certain GPA to maintain as well. Students who entered the spring with a lower GPA than their scholarship dictates have until spring of 2021 to bring up their GPA rather than being forced to bring it up during a mid-semester switch-up like this one. 

This is a realistic solution that will relieve students of their stress for classes that have changed drastically since midterms. Having the option would also allow students to still receive a letter grade if they want, which means that this option will only help students. Offering the choice rather than placing all letter grades or all pass/fail is the best option for people in these unique times. 

There is plenty of support for this as well. A petition was launched on to offer this pass/fail option for Quinnipiac students. It has received over 2,100 signatures, 1,500 of which were received in just two days. According to Francesca Napolitano, the senior sociology major who started the petition, the Student Government Association (SGA) told her the night of March 26th that they will be bringing this topic up to administration.

 Good. If other colleges are changing the way they grade, Quinnipiac should too. 

In a world as crazy as this, the sensible choice should prevail. Offer students a pass/fail option.