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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Putting the distance learning fee to work for students

opinions graphic generic
opinions graphic generic

I would like to propose that UF allocates a portion of our per-credit-hour tuition fees to upgrading the internet routers for those professors who are expected to lecture online from their homes. 

During my first week of classes, there were a few bumps in the road of adapting to an online learning environment. One lecture was especially difficult to follow due to the dreaded Zoom warning of “your internet connection is unstable” on the professor’s end. Now, I do give this professor a lot of respect for his efforts to make a good learning environment from his home kitchen. Despite preferring, somewhat archaic, chalkboards, he was able to set up Zoom screen-sharing of the PowerPoint slides from his iPad Pro so that he could draw on them. He also had a second Zoom session on his MacBook, because he wanted to see our faces and read the chat to know when we were completely lost. Bless him.

Sadly, this professor’s home internet infrastructure was not up to the task. Approximately once a minute his audio would either slow down enough to drop in pitch or skip over words entirely. This made for a very difficult class period, as then students would have to ask him to repeat himself and he would inevitably lose his train of thought. Adding even more strain on his internet, the professor then tried to play us a YouTube video over Zoom. The lowest setting you can typically watch a YouTube video is 144p, and this was somehow even worse.

This degraded experience is very different from the technological heft of traditional in-person classrooms on campus. During normal semesters, there are UF staff members dedicated to installing and managing the on-campus internet equipment, but when our professors are asked to work from their homes, they do not have that luxury. Instead, they are expected to use their personal Wi-Fi routers and pay for their home internet plans to perform their jobs. This leads to my classmates wondering if they are using potatoes for routers. 

UF has a “distance learning fee” of around $20 per credit hour to cover “production costs of putting face-to-face classes online,” according to Alligator archives. Across three credit hours and 50 students, this is $3,000 collected from one class. Small-business-grade routers are in the $200 to $300 range, and I believe supplying one to professors who need better equipment would be one of the most prudent investments in students’ online learning experience. UF leadership has assured us they want to make our “Zoom University” just as impactful a learning experience as any previous semester, and ensuring our professors stream crystal clear and lag-free from their kitchens would make a large difference.

Joe Dvorak is a biomedical engineering senior.

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