It Took a Global Crisis to Allow Remote Learning in Extreme Situations

When I graduated from college my dad asked me how much time I had missed over my four years at BC.

A lot.

I have since gone back and looked it over. The amount of time probably came out to several months worth of missed days – not just school, but all the other great parts of college, too – maybe a full semester’s worth in aggregate.

There was my freshman year when I had to take a medical leave and finish the last month or so of school, not to mention take my final exams, in absentia (that was a fun thing to clarify on my business school applications, by the way).

My sophomore year was much better in terms of days lost. I missed a bit of time in the beginning of the year because of medication-induced pancreatitis. In the second half of the year I had a flulike virus that landed me in the hospital for several days and a months-long recovery. Both situations led me to getting my feeding tube after the school year.

My junior year actually wasn’t so bad, save for a couple weeks in the spring semester I had to deal with a pulmonary exacerbation.

My senior year, while super fun, was almost hellish at times. I can’t even count the days missed or spent sitting in a hospital bed.

Each time I was out of school, I dealt with varying issues. Sometimes it was a classic pulmonary exacerbation that forced me home. Other times it was far more serious. The one common thread throughout it all was that I was left to teach the material to myself when I was home sick. From macroeconomics to “structures of the universe” (the latter was supposed to be an easy class to knock out the science requirement…it wasn’t), I was left to pull whatever I could out of the textbook. I thought I was paying for the learning experience, not access to a textbook… but I digress.

Actually… the one huge exception was a geology class I took my freshman year (again… I thought it was supposed to be an easier science class to knock out the other half of the requirement… it wasn’t). My professor took an outside the box approach at allowing me to finish the course from home. He encouraged me to take up a topic that would both fit the course’s scope and motivate me to learn. In the end I had to write an extensive paper… one that I spent God knows how many on. His willingness to be flexible while I needed it most is something I still think about. It’s also why I can tell you about NASA’s various missions to Mars and their plans for the future.

Back then, I felt like I was forced to sacrifice so much of my college experience because I was sick. It was a battle I had no chance to influence.

When I started virtual school yesterday, it suddenly felt like a fulfilling breath of fresh air. This time around, I am forced to miss time at school for a wholly different reason (and a good one at that…), but it feels like I am filling that void with a solution that had always been right in front of me.

I am left wondering WHY remote learning had never been a possibility when I needed it most. Instead, it took a worldwide crisis to get us to the point of making things accessible.

The technology, while maybe spotty, was certainly there when I was in college, yet it was never offered. I am not saying that BC treated me poorly. The opposite is true. The administration bent over backwards to accommodate my disability so that I could graduate on time. A wonderful dean really pushed me to finish the work my freshman year so I wouldn’t fall behind. It was a “you can do this” moment, and I feel like I am forever indebted to her for pushing me to see how far I could push myself.

Maybe, though, when I was 20 years old… I was passively accepting the single option given to me… finish the course on your own or withdraw and do the semester over next year.

I never considered a third option… access school from home.

I never asked for other options because (and I almost feel ashamed to admit it) it seemed like such a burden. Would setting up a remote learning option really have been such a burden? Maybe for someone to deal with the IT behind the scenes, sure.

I have seen the mountains the tech department and faculty at my current school have had to move to secure remote learning for all 600 students across both class years. It’s been one day, and I’m already impressed.

It feels impressive because everyone involved wants to do right by the students.

Today, though, I can’t help but think about how I would have felt as a 20 year being allowed to learn in such an accessible way. I wouldn’t have felt like I was making such an enormous sacrifice on behalf of my health, and I think that would have been invaluable for my self-esteem during a time when my body started to fail me.

Maybe one good thing that will come out of this pandemic is the next time a college student has to finish a semester in absentia because his health is failing him, his university will rise to the challenge and offer remote learning in his time of need.