Technology is an important tool for educators. It can help affirm and advance relationships between educators and students, reinvent our approaches to learning and collaboration
During the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers, parents, and students made the largest pivot worldwide from face to face learning in brick and mortar schools to online classrooms. While this was a herculean feat by all involved, there are concerns that online learning is not as effective as face to face learning. It may be easy to argue that learning in school is superior, as we all have experienced face-to-face learning, and we all have limited experience with online learning: but this assumption would ignore some very clear benefits of online learning and the fact that live online learning with teachers and peers is far superior to pre-recorded learning or no learning at all.
Pros of online learning
While the transition to online learning in early 2020 was one done in emergency, schools around the world are sharing incredible work on how to redesign learning with a combination of on-campus and online learning, to keep students engaged. We have no end in sight of a Covid-free world. Even if we could go back to “normal” with students and teachers on campus exclusively, would we want to and is that best for students? What we are finding is that with purposefully designed online learning modules are adding whole new dimensions to students learning. Resources for online learning possibilities are exploding world-wide and being readily shared amongst cadres of educators.
Additionally, there is an assumption that online learning is not good for students v/s in-class learning. This one-size-fits-all approach is simply not what is being seen across the world in virtual classrooms. Hence we must look at an overall perspective and arrive at a win-win situation for all the stakeholders involved.
The argument of digital divide
Another argument is that if all students cannot access learning online, then none should. While this is heroic in its sense of equity, the argument clearly misplaces the area of attention needed- that of inequity in our society in terms of poverty and access to excellent schools. Restricting teaching or the use of technology for learning can be detrimental to the most vulnerable populations of students.
Technology is an incredibly important tool for educators. It can help affirm and advance relationships between educators and students, reinvent our approaches to learning and collaboration, shrink long-standing equity and accessibility gaps, and adapt learning experiences to meet the needs of all learners. Rather than ban or restrict technology, educators need to be turning toward technology as one of many tools to support student learning during emergency remote teaching or risk exacerbating the digital divide.
When comparing online learning to students passively ingesting pre-recorded material with no opportunity to interact with teachers and peers, there is no comparison. Live online learning is truly the better option and one that is needed to keep students on track.
Ill-informed screen time concerns
The concerns of screen time are also not well-founded as much of what occurs online is not always related to screen time. Although computers are a big part of online education, much of the actual work is completed in the same way as it is in a traditional school. The students still read books, fill out worksheets, complete science experiments, and take quizzes and tests. Students submit work to teachers in a number of ways, depending on the assignment. Some of the assignments and assessments are printed, scanned, and uploaded via an online “drop box.” Other work is done completely online. Parents are required to work closely with their child, making sure the child is completing the work. As students become older, more responsibility rests on them.
Rather than learning in isolation on one’s own, online learning with clusters of peers facilitated by knowledgeable faculty is actually quite effective. Students are expected to participate in online discussions and be an active member of work groups. Therefore, independent learners in distance education are not necessarily lonely learners. Without online learning, young students will miss critical foundational learning related to conceptual understanding, key competencies, and the development of their character through social situations. What would be the bigger question?
Writer: Ted Mockrish (The author is head of school, Canadian International School)