Fewer than half of Amherst students come from places in the Eastern Time Zone. In any other semester on any other year, this fact would not affect students’ academic experience at Amherst. But this is not any other semester.
The transition to remote learning across time zones throughout the country and the world necessitates major accommodations within the online classroom — accommodations that the college hasn’t yet made. While East Coast students’ schedules are mostly unaffected by the move to remote learning, students in other time zones, like myself a Californian, are forced to sacrifice a healthy sleep schedule in order to attend early classes. This unnecessary risk to our health does not make any sense and poses a particular risk during a pandemic when we need to keep our immune systems as strong as possible.
Looking ahead to the rest of the semester, professors in all departments must get creative with restructuring their course syllabi and class structures to fit online learning platforms. However, beyond the pedagogical obstacles Zoom may pose, it has become necessary, now more than ever, to get creative with logistics.
One possible solution to the timezone problem could be moving early classes later in the day. However, this could interfere with other classes students are taking, as some classes would end up overlapping. Another option would be for students in different time zones to learn asynchronously by watching and responding to videos made by professors rather than actively taking part in class themselves. Of course, neither of these options sound ideal, as the first would be a scheduling nightmare and the second risks the benefits of discussion and small class sizes that brought many of us to Amherst in the first place.
There is one solution however that, while not perfect, would greatly improve the situation for many students — the college administration could push all class times back by two or three hours.
While study after study has shown that early school start times are detrimental to development, academic performance and mental health, no such studies reveal problematic impacts of later start times. In fact, the only detriment to starting school later is that it leaves less time to participate in extracurriculars or work after school. In the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak, that is a lot less of a problem. With states ordering citizens to shelter-in-place and the CDC recommending social distancing, students frankly don’t have anywhere else they need to be after class.
While it may be a little annoying for some students to have class end at 6 or 7 p.m. instead of 5 p.m., there will be no negative impact on their health and minimal impacts on their performance as a student. In fact many students are already used to scheduling that late due to the extracurriculars they participate in on campus taking place during those times, whereas no students at Amherst have classes that start at 6 a.m. That slight discomfort will remedy the serious health and performance problems faced by students living elsewhere, for whom the difference between a 6 a.m. versus an 8 a.m. start would be major.
Were the school to adopt the changes I am proposing, we would be left with a compromise that leaves most students with the need to slightly restructure their schedules, without causing actual harm to anyone. Isn’t that better than a one-sided decision that leaves a minority of students as they are while the rest struggle to adjust and cope with a massive change to their ability to participate in their own education?