The coronavirus has violently thrown the world into utter chaos. Non-essential businesses have shuttered their windows – some for good. Hospitals turn away visitors as a measure of caution. Stay-at-home orders are handed down by the government in hopes that it will slow the spread of the virus. Normalcy is painfully craved but not lived. The coronavirus has also squeezed the breath out of school, forcing it to keep itself alive by means of online learning. Some students prefer this virtual method; some don’t. The positives and negatives of distance learning have been discussed many times over the years. For some teachers and students, the issues of online learning have outweighed the benefits, and so they have shied away from it. As the pandemic continues, and online learning is thrusted upon America, it is time hunt down some potential solutions. Solutions that will help all students, who each have their own way of learning, to get the education they desire.
Of course, for a solution to be suggested, the concerns must first be identified. One that is often brought up is the lack of personal interaction with the instructor. Some students find it easier, and quicker, to communicate their lack of understanding to the instructor face-to-face, and it may be easier for the instructor to understand as well. Marcie LePine states in her book, Globalization, Employment & the Workplace, that the,
“… instructor-as-facilitator approach enables the instructor to rely on a variety of cues (body language, tone of voice) to communicate course material, to personalize the material to fit students’ needs, to provide immediate feedback, and to facilitate discussions among students” (LePine 242).
Lucy Debenham also says, “… the tone of voice and body language are combined to become the most powerful form of communication. However, body language … is often used on its own, and is thought to be one of the most ‘telling’ modes of communication” (Debenham).
Pure online learning would eradicate the ability to read silent communication such as body language. Lack of body language, and tone of voice, would make it harder for the student and instructor to communicate on a deeper level. This could potentially slow down learning and students may not fully comprehend the material given by the instructor.
Concepts being misunderstood and overlooked is another grave concern. For example, if a student depends on their calculator to do a permutation, does the student truly understand how a permutation works? Can they solve such a simple math equation without a calculator? Would technology become a crutch instead of a helpful tool?
Michael P. Clough and Joanne K. Olson express heartfelt concern that,
“technology is often a ‘black box’ that either misleads students into thinking they need not understand conceptually what the technology is doing for them or, worse, promotes serious misunderstanding of the concept under investigation … they can perceive the technology to be a necessary part of the concept, or worse, have little understanding about what they are doing” (Clough and Olson 8).
It is reasonable to believe that this would likely happen. We see this occur in many different areas of life. Map reading is a lost skill. People depend on cash registers to tell them what change to give back; if the register fails to do so, people are stumped. Society, as well as learning, is increasing dependency on technology and decreasing on understanding.
While some fear students will become entirely dependent on technology, others fear it will replace teachers. The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in education is growing in America, and it strikes reasonable anxiety into hardworking teachers. AI is more efficient and can personalize learning material to fit a particular student’s strengths and weaknesses. Time is precious, and AI saves some of it. Teachers, being only human, cannot compete with the AI’s efficiency and speed.
However, being human is something AI can never be, and that is an invaluable aspect of teaching. Andreas Oranje, general manager of research at the Educational Testing service, was asked in an interview if teachers should be concerned about AI technology. He acknowledged that some aspects would be fully automated but also reassured that,
“teaching is a very complex profession and AI will not be able to automate that much. In fact, I predict that it will lead to an expansion of education, not contraction … I think that the demand for teachers will go up. And, they will be asked more and more to do what they are uniquely qualified to do: instruct, coach, mentor, differentiate, individualize, and inspire” (Oranje).
Instructors and how they approach online learning are essential into making the virtual method be just as good as the face-to-face method. Instructors can help their students understand basic concepts by making their material concise and easily understood. Avoiding needless technical language will aid this. Teachers should speak to their students as people who are learning instead of people who already know.
Easily understood material emphasizes the need for high quality course design. Whitney Lowe says, “New research in learning shows that the quality of instructional design is far more important than the method of delivery (online versus classroom) when determining outcomes” (Lowe 68).
Instructors can force their students to understand basic concept of the course by testing them on it. If students know that they will be tested to see if they can comprehend concepts without computer aid, they will be motivated to learn and understand it. If students have questions, they can contact their instructor.
If email is not satisfactory to either student or teacher, the instructor should have a physical office that a student may visit. If a student is struggling with a concept and needs to be physically shown, the instructor can set an appointment to demonstrate it. If the student lives far away or is unable to meet their instructor for any reason, the instructor may set up an appointment via Skype or any other type of online meeting. If this is still unsatisfactory, a virtual version of class can be created by the instructor through Skype or Zoom. These will help smooth out any wrinkles in communication between student and teacher.
The students, however, have their own part to play as well. Virtual learning may require the student to have more self-discipline since they will be surrounded with more distractions than normal. It will be hard at first, but self-discipline can be learned. Also, by increasing self-discipline, it will seep into other aspects of life, and so help the student succeed even more.
Overall, the relationship between technology and learning is good thing, and most issues can be resolved by teacher and student. Franky Mantiri believes that, “Regardless of the disadvantages and challenges of technology use in education … the benefits of it outweighs when it comes to learning and the much readily available of information and opportunities of varieties of information that are otherwise challenging” (Mantiri 589).
The benefits are undeniable when it comes to online learning but so are the benefits of in-class learning. To reap the best of both worlds, a hybrid of the two would be the best. Some students learn best by being hands on; some do just as well without. By implementing a hybrid of online and in-person classes, it will ensure that all students, who each have their own unique way of learning, will get the education they desire.
Davis, Michelle R. Interview with Andreas Oranje. “Dynamic Duo Or Big Problem?” Education
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Debenham, Lucy. “Communication – What Percentage is Body Language?” Body Language
Expert. Updated 7 April 2020. http://www.bodylanguageexpert.co.uk/communication-what-
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LePine, Marcie, et al. “Chapter 12: Globalization, Global Human Resource Management, and
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