Online schooling hinders students, teachers

April 23, 2020 — by Andy Chen

We’ve had a grand total of two weeks of online learning following the closure of schools on March 16. With that meager sample size, I’ve heard some of my peers say they prefer the online learning to in-person learning. What they fail to grasp, however, is the negative impact this new mode will have on their overall learning if it becomes the new norm.

To start with, students can no longer interact face-to-face with classmates and teachers, resulting in a loss of transparency and engagement. Under normal circumstances, students can easily ask their peers or instructors for help, and teachers are available during class, tutorial and at other times. For example, math teachers often call on students to demonstrate and explain problems on the board, which gives others a chance to learn from a student’s mistakes and successes — a process that is vastly harder in an online setting. 

Without in-person communication, it’s much harder to achieve the same enthusiasm contained in a regular classroom, inhibiting students’ attentiveness and willingness to learn. Moreover, the lack of a structured classroom environment leads to a general lack of motivation among students, resulting in a loss of learning and increase in procrastination.

To help alleviate this, teachers could implement regular tutorial-esque video calls in which students ask them for help, and they could use features like Zoom’s breakout room tool to split students into groups to discuss and collaborate on problems. 

However, while these methods mimic the face-to-face interaction that normal schooling thrives on, many teachers are actually unable to hold these meetings because they need to care for their children or handle personal responsibilities that have become more demanding in face of the Covid-19 pandemic; thus, online education hinders both students and teachers.

The adoption of online schooling also diminishes the academic integrity of the school’s learning environment — which is already a major problem due to the school’s competitive nature. Without direct teacher supervision, students are more likely to cheat on assignments or tests. 

In order to mitigate this problem, teachers can either monitor students’ screens using a secure lockdown browser or assign them major projects that check for understanding, essentially replacing tests. For example, instead of administering tests, chemistry teacher Kathryn Nakamatsu requires students to record and upload a video of themselves completing a performance assessment. Since students must submit their own video and record their own data, this assessment will accurately reflect students’ own work. 

Of course, teachers can — and should — implement these policies to diminish the problems with online schooling. However, even with these changes, online schooling will still fail to live up to normal schooling’s efficiency and reliability. After all, these solutions bring with them their own plethora of problems: online video calls carry many flaws, including instructors’ lack of ability to monitor their students, and students will undoubtedly still find ways to cheat on most assessments. 

Other problems don’t have any conceivable solutions. For example, online schooling provides no substitute for hands-on education. Students no longer have the opportunity to participate in science labs, P.E. workout routines and in-class projects — all of which are vital to students’ learning experiences. 

Ultimately, students and teachers don’t have a lot of control over the current online learning situation, but when the school year does return to normal, students should be excited — not disappointed — that their education will continue in a better environment.

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At UC Berkeley, PhD student Abrar Abidi and research assistant Yvonne Hao have embarked on a goal of creating hand sanitizer for the Bay Area's most vulnerable populations, including the homeless and the incarcerated. Their hand sanitizer includes glycerol mixed with other products, in accordance with a formula from the World Health Organization. So far, they are producing 120 hundreds of gallons of sanitizer each week. Photo courtesy of Roxanne Makasdjian with UC Berkeley.

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