TRENTON — State lawmakers want to commission a study of how online learning has gone for college students during the pandemic, in part out of the belief that it is going to last beyond the era of COVID-19.

Two committees this week – one in the Senate, one in the Assembly – endorsed a bill (A4836/S3313) that would create a task force to evaluate the quality, efficacy, costs and educational outcomes of online courses offered by New Jersey colleges over the past year.

“This is more than likely going to be the way of the future in terms of educating New Jersey,” said Assemblyman Tom Giblin, D-Essex. “It’s not going away once this health issue is resolved. It’s probably going to grow in size.”

“The idea is to get some possible results and see which way they can enhance or if there was a more efficient way of conducting these classes,” he said.

Giblin said that with community college a focus of both the state and federal administrations, online learning could be an effective way to reach adult students with jobs who can break away for classes at different hours of the day or part-time.

“I view this as a teaching aid,” Giblin said. “I think the optimum type of instruction would be in person. That’s only this person’s thinking.”

Assemblyman Gerry Scharfenberger, R-Monmouth, an anthropology instructor at Monmouth University, said there’s “no one more interested” in the task force’s work though wonders how it will measure.

“This is something that’s been debated since online courses reared their head several years ago,” Scharfenberger said. “You’ll get some faculty who thinks they’re very effective, some not effective and someone in between. So, it’ll be interesting to see what the task force uses.”

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The task force would consist of 16 members, including state Higher Education Secretary Brian Bridges, four public members appointed by the four legislative leaders and 11 public members appointed by Gov. Phil Murphy, one of whom would represent the New Jersey Education Association.

“By having a broad representation, the way it’s proposed, we have an open mind on this issue. We’re looking to do what’s best for the students who are impacted during this period of time,” Giblin said. “The range is to try to get everybody at the table to see what we could do to improve this.”

The task force would have two years to issue a final report.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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