Release Date: September 25, 2020
BUFFALO, N.Y. – Some of Amanda Hart’s most vivid memories of in-person courses are the distractions. There is always one squeaky chair, she says, and someone usually plays on a laptop, watching movies instead of listening to the lecture.
Hart often found a line of students waiting to talk to the professor, and by the time she got her turn, the teacher was walking out the door. Hart has a disability, and found it “hazardous” walking up steps between classes because so many people pushed to get past. Then there was commuting from her Hamburg home, parking and fitting her schedule around static classes.
Hart is now a devotee of remote learning, a pathfinder in the new higher education order. She partnered with a Nigerian organization while taking the SUNY Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) Global Commons course this summer, making a 21-page full color magazine in less than two weeks to further what Nigerians call “elderly friendliness.”
“By taking on more than what is expected of me, I am able to push myself past my safety net,” says Hart, a senior psychology major graduating in December. “I honestly believe online learning is all about capitalizing on opportunity when it’s presented.”
100 hours to produce a 21-page magazine
Putting the magazine together was a grueling process, taking 100 hours to complete. The team she led produced it for PriHEMAC, a non-government organization in Nigeria devoted to preventing the elderly from being abandoned and neglected.
During their two-week magazine deadline, two of Hart’s teammates were caught in a hurricane, so she had to overcome the creative barriers herself. PriHEMAC liked the final project and agreed to work with Hart after the COIL program ended.
When it was done, the experience left her with a sense of purpose that blew away her typical classroom time.
“I felt I had a part in making a real difference,” she says. “I felt noticed, something that can be difficult in a traditional classroom.
“Not only was I able to experience something new,” she says, “I was also able to help someone else.”
Hart was so “enthralled” with virtual study abroad that she signed up “within minutes” for the Tanzania Virtual Study Abroad course led by Mara Huber, associate dean for undergraduate research and experiential learning, who worked with Hart’s COIL group. Each week this semester, Hart, Huber and three other students attend a Zoom meeting and talk about Tanzania.
“Mara has shared her experiences about visiting Tanzania,” says Hart. “And in a way, all of us are vicariously living her experiences while she shares them. We have had the opportunity to meet incredible people involved with sustainability projects in Tanzania, and are actually in the midst of creating our own women’s empowerment project.”
Excelling via remote learning
Seventy-five percent of Hart’s college classes have been online. She earned the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence while attending Erie Community College, and numerous scholarships. She has a 3.6 GPA and time to run her own grass-roots organization, Buffalo Custom Art, a public art project that has earned her media coverage in The Buffalo News, Buffalo Rising and elsewhere.
Hart has been thriving in the age of having to work in any way other than in person. And like others who have adapted to this new reality, there is an emotional foundation and purpose to her educational evolution.
“We are starving for meaningful connection right now,” she says Hart. “The news is telling us how people are dying. Our world leaders are panicking. We are fighting for justice and equality. Our student population faces the biggest threat of adversity since the Great Depression.
“We need each other now more than ever -- and what used to separate us before through social circles, distance, illness, disability no longer applies.”
Hart says she can budget her time better with online classes. She gets more attention from teachers and can concentrate better. She saves gas sidestepping her 45-minute commute each way, reducing her carbon footprint. And she has schedule flexibility that gives her the independence she always thought was a hallmark of a college student.
“I earned my way to a college degree sitting at my kitchen table, for the most part,” says Hart.
The future of education
Huber says Hart “exhibits a level of enthusiasm I rarely see. Rather than focusing on the limitations of remote learning, she throws herself into the possibilities. This in turn opens up new opportunities.
“Amanda is thriving, and I can’t wait to see where her journey takes her.”
Hart believes remote learning “is the future of education.”
“Not only do we become more independent when we take classes online, we become active participants in our own learning outcomes,” she says.
“Isn’t it time we finally put all of the technology we have been hiding behind to good use? Our generation has the opportunity to shape the future of further online learning and opportunities simply by engaging and making the most out of what’s offered to us.”