Sosa: Online education is here to stay

Columnist Zoami Calles-Rios Sosa advocates for more consideration toward keeping more online classes at Iowa State. 

Zoami Calles-Rios Sosa

A few days ago, President Wendy Wintersteen announced that Iowa State University would be going back to in-person classes for the 2021-22 academic year. Along with this, the options for online courses became pretty dismal at this point. I would encourage Iowa State to think a bit more long-term and add more online classes, as online education will play a vital part in the future of education as we know it.

I know online education is the way forward because it offers convenience, less cost, more accessibility and a needed flexibility not found in the rigid structures of the past. We can’t continue to look back to find the answers to our future.

“But the experience…”

One of the most significant selling points of college is that it offers the “college experience” — the time and place where students can explore things they usually wouldn’t be exposed to, like living on their own or with strangers, making random connections, partying too much, having responsibilities, finding themselves, etc.

While mostly true, I’m one of those people that is perfectly OK with missing out on these. I’ve learned over the years to become more practical. As a non-traditional student, I’d much rather spend time with my family, work to continue to pay my bills and do online classes on my own time.

The one thing that COVID-19 allowed me to do was to test my ability to adapt. Teaching myself some of the most complex academic content I’ve encountered during a stressful global pandemic was no fun, but it was doable. It taught me that I don’t need to be inside a set of specific walls to learn. I can learn anywhere — well, almost. Studying from home does open your family up to think that you aren’t doing much, and they can interrupt you at any point.

Online classes are the future

While many will continue to opt for the “college experience,” I think many more will gravitate toward a hybrid or online-only model. I know I would be one of the latter in a heartbeat now. That’s why it’s so disappointing that there aren’t any classes that I can take during the fall semester at Iowa State online.

In-person classes are the traditional way we have been learning, but it’s not all good. Schools struggle to get students to stay that first year. The transition from high school to college is a hard one for many. In general, even before COVID-19, 30 percent of college freshmen dropped out before starting their second year in college.

Many of the reasons stated for leaving are financial. For example, someone in the student’s family has become ill, and the student may need to look after them or work to provide financial support for the family.

Online classes allow space for these kinds of life-changing events to happen while still providing the option for students to continue pursuing their future careers.

There are some issues that we will need to have addressed. Online classes shouldn’t be as expensive as they are now from universities like Iowa State — that is, if Iowa State wants to compete because there are plenty of other affordable options nowadays.

The other more prominent and perhaps most important issue is the access to fast and reliable internet.

According to the governor’s website, one-third of all Iowa counties don’t have broadband access; they are considered “broadband deserts.” And only 18.5 percent of all Iowans have access to affordable internet services. 

My internet sucks. I have Mediacom, and every day I have to experience outages lasting from a few moments to a few minutes. At least it is better than when I am at my parent’s farm. Their only options are slow and spotty satellite internet or slow and spotty cell phone’s hotspot. Neither works when trying to upload my homework to our school’s Canvas system.

With the rise of teleworking and remote work, it is clear that the internet will play a vital role in the workforce. Along with this will be the need for education to become more flexible as people can and will move around due to their ability to work remotely.

And it’s not like studying from home is new. For years, professionals have been doing online courses. It finally is catching up to the larger student body.

Some of the “experiences” in college may be lost, but that will be the cost of doing business. After all, we are a capitalistic country. We are not built on experiences; the bottom line is our motto. The future is already here. Where are you going to be? Sticking to past ideas because that’s just the way we have been doing them, or looking forward and seeing that the world has already changed and we need to innovate?