Earlier this year, the Principality of Monaco brought the short film festival Le temps presse to our campus. We watched five short films, serving as the jury for the coveted Prix des étudiants. One of the films was As it Used to Be, set in the near-future when in-class contact with a professor has become a relic of the past. In the alternate reality of this compelling short film, virtual learning is the norm and face-to-face interactions are just memories that have become anachronisms. The film is meant to evoke an a priori lamentation for a coming techno-future and an appreciation for the everyday personal interactions we have as students with professors in our time.
By Ryan Zohar
Months had passed, yet I could not help but think of the film as I opened up my Macbook and sat down in my bed to watch my fourth political science lecture from a computer screen. Each Thursday, I sit down to watch my two hours of Introduction to Political Science lectures, pausing every few minutes to gather my thoughts, catch up on notes, or send a text. Each Friday, I walk to campus and sit in l’Amphi Richard Descoings, ready for my weekly sociology lecture via videoconference. Sure, it is a testament to the advancements of technology that my professor can see us weekly from the comfort of the Paris campus, but I guess I remain ardently old-fashioned in my predilection towards real human interaction.
Some of my most thought-provoking moments in my other classes have occurred in those after-class questions, those coffee-break comments, and the pertinent anecdotes of my peers in class.
I realize that there is a benefit to having classes online. I can watch the lectures when I choose, I am able to rewind and fast-forward and take my own pauses. While these actions would be unthinkable in my “traditional” lectures, I am free to stop and start my video lectures whenever I like. I can also see the benefit of having my professors be those from Sciences Po’s Paris Campus, world-renowned scholars not always readily available in the Nice Metropolitan Area. However, I cannot stop myself from thinking of the many massive open online courses (MOOCs) taught by professors from Yale, Stanford, and other well-renowned universities that can be accessed for free through websites such as Coursera and Stanford Online.
The 10 150 € that I pay as a student whose parents’ tax residence is not in the European Economic Area is the same as a non-EEA student would pay in Paris, but it is the Paris students who are graced with their professors’ physical presences while I make thousands of euros’ worth of tuition payments to watch videos on Vimeo.
At least seven of the courses offered on the Campus de Menton this academic year have online components, with four of the six core courses for 1A French Track being conducted via pre-recorded video lectures or videoconference. The same can be said for two of the six core courses for 1A English Track.
Even for classes where in-person interactions seem essential to facilitate learning, such as language instruction, some aspects of coursework have become usurped by budding online pedagogy. One 2A student at Sciences Po Paris, Campus de Menton expressed the discouraging effect this online correspondence has had on his language learning experience, claiming that
human interaction is very important in general, and especially for language instruction.
“When it is a random person I have never met, giving me assignments and grading me without me ever meeting him, it makes me feel less motivated to learn the language. Even though I know it’s a professor on the other side, I never feel like it is actually a professor. [Feedback on my assignments] encouraged me, but it did not motivate me as much as my other professor’s (the one we see in person) words.”
Several students independently surveyed by Le Zadig have expressed a lack of engagement with the course material when forced to watch lectures online. A 1A English Track student, wishing to stay anonymous, stated that “the learning experience associated with online courses lacks the same social and pedagogical aspects of in-person lectures.” This lack of engagement also encourages truancy on the part of students who become disillusioned or have trouble maintaining the routine of lecture watching. While, yes, we are adults, and it is a student’s responsibility to ensure his or her involvement in the course,
it seems ironic that a university with as strict an attendance policy as Sciences Po is willing to overlook the effects of online lectures on “virtual” truancy.
If Sciences Po Paris truly wants to claim that students on the regional campuses are studying at a university that was recently ranked 5th in the world in Politics & International Studies by QS World University Rankings, it should provide high-quality professors that are physically present at each delocalized campus.
There are great professors for many courses at Sciences Po Paris, Campus de Menton. Unfortunately, some of these great professors never step foot in Menton.
Sciences Po has some of the most prolific researchers in the social sciences and most knowledgeable experts on the Middle East, I just hope they can be lured to Menton by the prospects of sunny beaches and eager students.
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