UB op-ed: Online learning: A powerful tool to build education equity

By: | May 9, 2019

Christopher Oscar Medellin is director of e-Learning at Borough of Manhattan Community College, The City University of New York.

E-learning is not just a convenient option for today’s college student, it is a necessary and productive alternative to traditional classroom instruction. At Borough of Manhattan Community College, The City University of New York (BMCC/CUNY), student demand for online courses is growing.

More than half our students work part or full time, and online courses are easier to wrap around their work schedule than a class they attend on campus.

Online instruction also helps student parents avoid the cost of childcare for when they are in class, and it enables students to pace their learning in a way that supports their strengths.

In the 2017-2018 academic year, 16,629 BMCC students enrolled in 900 sections of online classes—11 percent of the total course sections offered at BMCC, and up from three percent in 2013.

More than 90 percent of students surveyed by the BMCC E-Learning Center in November 2018 reported being satisfied or more than satisfied with their online learning experience. Half had taken online courses before at BMCC, and two-thirds said they plan to take an online course going forward. Our students also report that they perceive online courses to be equal in rigor to in-person courses, and the pass rate for our online courses is virtually the same as the pass rate for in-person courses.

In New York City, about a quarter of all households don’t have a computer or WiFi at home. We know this is true for some of our students, and the BMCC E-Learning Center is working hard to develop strategies to build broadband and computer access for those with the highest need.

We are also expanding our services to provide free cloud-based digital tools such as Microsoft 365, Dropbox and Google Suite—all of which help students maximize their sense of community online and deepen their interaction with course content.

In addition, the E-Learning Center at BMCC is working hard to support student success and opportunity through various digital education initiatives, including the development of online and hybrid courses, as well as faculty development and training to increase the number of courses offered online—with two entire online degrees set to launch in Fall 2019.

At BMCC, equity and inclusion are the driving factors of our college’s strategic planning and initiatives. Online courses support those efforts, and strengthen skills that students can bring to careers in a rapidly changing, 21st-century economic environment.

It also helps them become savvier digital citizens who can collaborate virtually and participate in online communities in a credible and productive way.

At BMCC, where more than half our students are first in their families to attend college, online learning helps build the bridge to degree attainment. It closes the technology gap and supports further education and upward mobility for our students. It is a powerful tool to promote equity on today’s community college campus.

—Christopher Oscar Medellin is Director of E-Learning at Borough of Manhattan Community College, The City University of New York