Covid beat up the universities and stole a teaching method from them for centuries. Almost every class at almost every institution has wandered online, leading to fears that students are being taught far less well than they should, despite being denied the social and cultural benefits of campus life. Some fear – or hope – that campus will never fully recover from the pandemic. This forecast is based on the expectation that online teaching can become the norm even after the novel coronavirus has been overcome.
Zvi Galil denies the premises that we should be afraid of online teaching and that in-person teaching is necessarily superior. Since professors everywhere take stock of their first full year of apprenticeship at Zoom U, the 73-year-old Galil basks in his role as a pioneer. An online degree he launched at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s College of Computing – where he was Dean from 2010 to 2019 – is now in its eighth year.
In January 2014, Tel Aviv-born Galil embarked on the online Master of Science in Computer Science, the first college degree program taught entirely online. To hear him say, many students are far from studying even when the professor is in the room.
“Online starts in the third row,” says Galil about Zoom from his New York apartment and describes a typical cave-like lecture hall in front of Covid College, in which 300 students are set up in front of a microfounded professor. He doesn’t just mean that many in class have cell phones in the lower rows or surf social media on laptops. He describes the “separation” between teacher and student, which begins only a few meters away from the lectern. If a large classroom doesn’t allow for serious emotional attachment, why should online learning be more aloof or less intimate?
“When you have a class of 30,” he admits, “it’s better to be face to face, even with social distancing. You have discussions, conversations, a few questions, more flexibility. But universities cannot survive with 30 classes. The most sought-after courses attract hundreds. ”