When I was thinking about where I might want to attend college, one of the things I looked for in potential schools was a robust virtual/hybrid program that would allow me to take virtual classes each semester. I ended up taking at least 50% of my classes virtually each semester of undergrad, and eventually finished my degree entirely through virtual classes, which allowed me to balance my interests in academics with the demands that come with living with a chronic illness. While I know virtual classes aren’t everyone’s favorite, here is why taking virtual classes in college or having a hybrid schedule can be an aweosme option for students, especially students with disabilities and chronic illnesses.
I had trouble finding a history class that fit my schedule and didn’t meet super early in the morning or super late at night, when I have more trouble focusing my eyes. Virtual classes often meet asynchronously, meaning that students can log on any day(s) or time(s) during the week that work well for them. Some students may prefer to self-schedule a block of time to work on assignments for their virtual classes, while others may check on their class throughout the week and complete assignments when they have time. Taking a few classes virtually can also help students fit other in-person classes into their schedule that they might not be able to otherwise- for example, I took a virtual accounting class so that I would be able to fit pep band into my schedule, which was an important social outlet.
When I am having a good day/week with managing my chronic illness, I can often work ahead in my virtual classes and complete assignments for multiple weeks in advance, so that I don’t have to worry about falling behind. Conversely, if I have an emergency procedure or otherwise can’t work on my classwork, the self-paced nature of virtual classes allows me to come back to the class when I am ready and catch up on missed work. Since virtual classes do not typically involve group assignments, this works well for me.
If a class is online, there is a strong chance that the textbook is too, or at least available in a digital format. Since I can’t read standard print, I rely on digital copies of materials to access information, and have never had any issues with getting accessible copies of a textbook for virtual classes. On the rare occasion where I can’t find a book through Bookshare or another accessible library, my college’s assistive technology specialists can make any of my course materials into an accessible format.
All of the instructional materials for virtual classes are posted to the class website and can be replayed or accessed by students whenever they need them. This is especially helpful when sitting through video lectures, as I like to slow down the recordings so I can take notes or zoom in on the screen as needed.
Another helpful resource that all of my virtual professors have included in their video lectures is transcripts and captions for all video content, which is great for students to follow along with. I like to copy and paste examples directly from the transcript into my notes to save on typing time.
Being proficient in word processing, presentation, spreadsheet, and similar productivity applications is an important skill for the workplace, and virtual classes provide students with multiple opportunities to use these tools for assignments. Students who are interested in showing off their knowledge in productivity applications may be interested in pursuing Microsoft Office Specialist or Google GSuite certifications, which are industry-accredited certifications that look great on a resume.
When it comes to working on assignments for math classes, I prefer to use my desktop computer instead of my laptop because of the larger screen size. For this reason, virtual math classes work well for me because I can complete all of my assignments, including tests, using my own personal technology settings in an environment that works well for me. I can also use my iPad more easily for completing other assignments, which can be done while I am sitting in a recliner or in another comfortable setting without a ton of bright overhead lighting. I found that I scored much higher on math assignments that I completed at home or in my dorm compared to in the classroom because I didn’t have to deal with eyestrain as frequently.
While a lot of my classes were virtual, my professors were often on-campus or connected students to other on-campus resources for extended learning, so I always felt like I could reach my professors or get help as needed. I could also meet with other students from my classes on campus, or take virtual classes with friends so that I had someone else to talk to about assignments.
One of my favorite things about taking virtual classes in college is that I can get accessible copies of classroom materials without having to ask my professors, as I can make a lot of digital content accessible on my own. I still give professors a copy of my Disability Services accommodations sheet at the beginning of the semester, but often find that I don’t have to think about whether something will be accessible or if I have to think about other environmental accommodations. I can just focus on learning new things.
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated October 2023; original post published April 2017.
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