By Zhaoyang He, MEng ’23 (EECS)This op-ed is part of a series from E295: Communications for Engineering Leaders. In this course, Master of Engineering students were challenged to communicate a topic they found interesting to a broad audience of technical and non-technical readers. As an opinion piece, the views shared here are neither an expression of nor endorsed by UC Berkeley or the Fung Institute. On my first day at Berkeley, I was shocked by the number of classmates in DATA100, Principles and Techniques of Data Science: nearly 1,100! However, stepping into Wheeler 150, I noticed there were only 200 students in this classroom, and where were the others? Later, I learned that DATA100 provided online videos, and students could study through Zoom. “Classrooms are too crowded, and it’s relaxing to learn at home,” explained Hao, one of my classmates who preferred to study online. The University of California, Berkeley is a pioneer in online education. As early as 2010, the famous course CS61A, Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, provided online recording for students. Despite the controversy over online education, COVID-19 has led more and more people to believe that this will be the mainstream of education in the future (Kansal et al. 2021). Therefore, when the pandemic gradually recedes, it is not surprising that courses like DATA100 are still taught in a mixed mode. But personally, considering academic integrity, credibility, and campus experience, I do not think online education is a must for college students to achieve academic success. Admittedly, the great benefit of online education is flexibility. Compared to high school students, college students have more complex characteristics: different backgrounds, different majors, and longer social hours. Therefore, online education provides students with various course options. Even if there is an emergency and they cannot take classes offline, students can keep up with teachers through video recordings. Also, for some famous courses, such as CS61A as mentioned, there are currently 1,700 students enrolled, and it is impossible to find such a big classroom! However, the flexibility of online teaching also implies a lack of regulation, which also provides opportunities for academic misconduct. In the Summer 2020 semester, the first semester of fully online teaching, the Teaching Assistants (TAs) in CS61A mistakenly used an encryption algorithm for the final exam. Consequently, students had access to the paper before the exam, and worse still, there was no way to detect this behavior. Whether someone cheated is still a mastery and this has been a classic example in CS161, the Computer Security course (Kao 2022). Second, online education places higher demands on students’ moral standards. The ease of access to resources promotes student learning but increases the potential for cheating. Websites such as Chegg and Course Hero provide a good platform for students to copy answers. For example, we can find the search record for homework 4 in CS61A, released on 30th September, in Chegg, and get the answer quickly. Note that the answer is posted on 2nd October, which is before the due time! Online teaching also undermines the credibility of grades. GPA inflation, a consistent, general upward trend in GPA, has existed for a long time (Felton et al. 2004). It means that professors grade students higher than before. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has accelerated this process (Karadag 2021). Online education makes it more difficult for professors to judge students’ learning results. To avoid failing too many students, professors intend to give simpler exam questions and higher scores. Besides, online education has forced the switch from closed-book exams to open-book exams, and students can use electronic devices to look up answers. Therefore, exams are not as reliable as before and the grades can be deceptive. Students graded A- in 2022 may be at the same level as students graded B+ 10 years ago (Park et al. 2022). In 2014, the average GPA for students at UC Berkeley was 3.29. However, to declare a CS major nowadays, undergraduates must reach a minimum 3.30 GPA, and MEng students in EECS must achieve a 3.50 GPA! Therefore, GPA inflation goes even faster during the COVID-19 period. Compared to other universities, UC Berkeley is famous for hard courses and strict grades. However, during the pandemic, more than 50% of students received an A in some courses. For example, in the CS61C course, Great Ideas of Computer Architecture (Machine Structures), 63.1% of the students enrolled in the Fall 2021 semester got an A or A+, while nine years before, this ratio was only 14.0%. Online education also hinders students’ growth beyond professional knowledge. Education is more than courses. It also means the joy of winning a basketball game and the tears facing graduation. This rich experience, lacking in online education, also develops a student. Besides, for international students, school is the main place to experience a foreign culture, but online education blocks this. Wen, a student at the University of Toronto, complained: “‘As an international student, I hardly used English in my class during my first year, nor did I experience the culture in a foreign country. I wouldn’t have traveled to Canada if I knew my classes would be online.” Furthermore, discussion, debate, and presentation provided offline not only profound students’ understanding of knowledge but also equipped students with cooperation skills. When students graduate, they discuss with their colleagues rather than work alone. Therefore, soft skills may be more practical than the mastery of professional knowledge which cannot be provided sufficiently via online education. For hundreds of years, offline education has trained countless talents for the world. From the past to the present, I believe that offline education can still be competent to cultivate students. While considering academic misconduct, deceptive GPA, and soft skill cultivation, there are flaws in online education, and it takes a long time to overcome. Therefore, online education can only supplement offline education rather than replace it. References
- Chegg. n.d. Review of Chegg Searching Result. Accessed October 2, 2022. https://www.chegg.com/homework-help/questions-and-answers/implement-balancedfunction-returns-whether-m-balanced-mobile-mobile-balanced-following-co-q85464476.
- Crowley, Magdalene L. 2016. “Computer Science Bachelor of Arts.” EECS at UC Berkeley. May 26, 2016. https://eecs.berkeley.edu/academics/undergraduate/cs-ba.
- Crowley, Magdalene L. 2016. “M.Eng. Student Guide.” EECS at UC Berkeley. June 29, 2016. https://eecs.berkeley.edu/resources/grads/meng.
- DeNero, John. 2022. Review of Homework 4: Sequences, Trees. September 30, 2022. https://inst.eecs.berkeley.edu/~cs61a/fa22/hw/hw04/.
- Felton, James, and Peter T. Koper. 2004. “Nominal GPA and Real GPA: A Simple Adjustment That Compensates for Grade Inflation.” SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.531623.
- Kansal, Ashwani Kumar, Jyoti Gautam, Nalini Chintalapudi, Shivani Jain, and Gopi Battineni. 2021. “Google Trend Analysis and Paradigm Shift of Online Education Platforms during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Infectious Disease Reports 13 (2): 418–28. https://doi.org/10.3390/idr13020040.
- Kao, Perrin. 2022. Block Ciphers and Modes of Operation. Slide 63. https://fa22.cs161.org.
- Karadag, Engin. 2021. “Effect of COVID-19 Pandemic on Grade Inflation in Higher Education in Turkey.” Edited by Dominique Persano Adorno. PLOS ONE 16 (8): e0256688. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0256688.
- Hill, Phil. 2012. “Online educational delivery models: A descriptive view.” Educause review 47, no. 6: 84–86. https://er.educause.edu/articles/2012/11/online-educational-delivery-models--a-descriptive-view.
- “L01 Functional Programming | UC Berkeley CS 61A, Spring 2010.” n.d. www.youtube.com. Accessed October 16, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watchv=4leZ1Ca4f0g&list=PLhMnuBfGeCDNgVzLPxF9o5UN KG1b-LFY9.
- Park, Byungjin, and Joonmo Cho. 2022. “How Does Grade Inflation Affect Student Evaluation of Teaching?” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, September, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2022.2126429.
- Rojstaczer, Stuart. 2016. “National Trends in Grade Inflation, American Colleges and Universities.” March 29, 2016. https://www.gradeinflation.com/.
Op-ed: Is online education a must for university students? was originally published in Berkeley Master of Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.