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From the Classroom to Zoom

These uncertain times have dictated school closings and the rapid expansion of online education. But the question arises - can online lessons replace the ‘in-school’ time?


E-learning provides tons of opportunities for students. Students, in a school that doesn’t offer a particular course, may be able to learn new skills with virtual lessons. If one fails to attend a lecture at a given circumstance, they are able to catch up later using online classes, and not disrupt their trajectory at school. The availability of online study material is yet another reason why the online set up is proving to be useful.


Only a little research has assessed the negative effects of online lessons for university students. Students assigned to the online option rated their class as more difficult than did their peers assigned to the face-to-face option.


Being in person with teachers and other students creates social pressures and benefits that can help motivate students to engage. Some students do well in online courses as in in-person courses, some may actually do better, but, on average, students do worse in the online setting, and this is particularly true for students with weaker academic backgrounds. Students who struggle in in-person classes are likely to struggle even more online.

"In the online setting, students may have more distractions and less oversight, which can reduce their motivation."

Each type of classroom presents distinct challenges and pleasures, but they all have one thing in common. In these classrooms, students meet one another as apparent equals. They sit on the same chairs. It is not a space apart from the damaged and unfair world in which we live, but it is a place where students meet each other, first and foremost, as fellow learners.


The attainability of education becomes dependent on how well the child is exposed to luxuries. The glimpses into the students’ homes violate the implicit contract of the classroom, where students have some measure of control over what parts of their lives from outside of school come into view. But equality in the classroom is a fiction - race, gender, class, sexuality, citizenship status and other factors shape who feels confident speaking up in class and who feels afraid of saying the wrong thing. An education spread over laptop screens helps to eliminate these differences.


Teachers have more time now, with no commute or extracurricular activities to be taken care of, hence making it easier to tend a little more to each student, simultaneously making the urgent need for broadband access and at-home support, yet another important topic to address.


Now that kids are learning from home, their support system—or the lack of it thereof—is more crucial than ever. With that in mind, a huge number of districts and schools have changed their grading policies, requesting teachers to give feedback and opportunities to correct the work, rather than a score.


Kids who flourished in a strictly controlled classroom environment are floundering because they have never learned how to manage their own time. Home-based performance tests and projects and a flexible schedule is another favour of studying online.


“Fewer assignments with more detailed feedback can help students stay motivated, understand the material more fully, and alleviate some of the pressure on teachers, even when giving individual feedback takes more time than right-wrong grading.”


Whatever the classroom looks like when COVID-19 wanes, it needs to be different from what we had before school buildings closed in March. This experience has given us insights and tools to better serve our students. Right now, virtual courses are allowing students to access lessons and exercises and interact with teachers in ways that would have been impossible if an epidemic had closed schools even a decade or two earlier. So, we may be sceptic of online learning, but it is also time to embrace and improve it.

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