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Online learning — exploring the opportunities and obstacles

The last few months have witnessed tectonic shifts in the way the world works. Lives have changed at an individual level, businesses have been through a massive upheaval, and the education sector’s traditional methods have had to transform in real-time. And that’s the transformation we’re now going to delve into here. It’s common knowledge that physical classes have been on hold for a while now thanks to lock downs and social distancing rules. The need then, has been to ensure students remain safe and receive an education at the same time. Online learning has emerged as a savior, allowing universities around the world to conduct classes for students who may be locked down in their dorm rooms or hometowns. Apart from this obvious plus of accessibility, online learning comes with a host of benefits. Among other things, it:

  • Allows flexibility, access, and convenience to students and faculty as lectures can be delivered and attended remotely

  • Leads to higher retention and an increase in engagement, since students don’t feel like they are being watched or judged

  • Fosters skills such as time management and self discipline, since online learning requires a high degree of self motivation

That being said, there are also certain disadvantages to virtual learning, some of which are exacerbated by external factors such as economic inequality and political policies.

For starters, the lack of human contact can take a toll on one’s mental health. Students as well as educators must be part of online forums and support groups where they can discuss their issues and feel a sense of connection. Second, online learning can get boring, especially since students are attending lessons without friends and classmates. Educators thus need to introduce new ways to make learning dynamic, interactive, and fun. Technical difficulties are also common and, in many cases, access to the internet itself remains an issue. In the first instance, basic technical know-how becomes non-negotiable, while in the second, government action to facilitate internet accessibility becomes essential. The last, and perhaps the most major drawback — particularly for international students in America — are the new regulations released by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. These state that foreign students (holders of F-1 and M-1 non immigrant visas) attending US colleges that will operate entirely online this fall semester cannot remain in the country — adding that to stay, they must take measures such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction. In short, the unprecedented and insensitive move puts international students between a rock and a hard place; either leave the country you worked so hard to make it to, or risk your health by attending in person classes. To say it’s shocking is an understatement, and colleges are under pressure to adopt a hybrid model combining in-person and online classes — which essentially puts everyone involved at risk of COVID-19. That’s part of the reason why institutions such as Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are doing their best to fight these new regulations. The two have sued in federal court to try and block the policy, arguing that “the untenable situation of either moving forward with their carefully calibrated, thoughtful, and difficult decisions to proceed with their curricula fully or largely online in the fall of 2020… or to attempt, with just weeks before classes resume, to provide in-person education despite the grave risk to public health and safety that such a change would entail.” The University of California too intends to file a suit against the federal government, and New York University has committed to giving international students access to in-person classes so that they meet the new ICE requirements.

In summary, these are difficult times, made tougher by anti-people policies and government insensitivity. It’s normal to be confused, angry, and uncertain, and right now, there are more questions than answers. However, we at August Network are committed to serve the best interests of every international student — so please reach out to us and we guide you on how to navigate these new regulations.



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