Classroom or Computer
By: Rebecca Roth
I have attended a small private school my entire life. There are countless advantages to this type of education, but the main disadvantage is the absence of class options. For my junior year of high school, I did not want to take an Anatomy and Physiology class, so it became my job to find another way to earn a science credit. I found an online physics class and proposed that course to my principal. He approved this class with apprehension, but I quickly got to work. I had no idea why my principal was not in favor of the online class, but I understand his reasoning now. The experience of an online class was considerably different than what I expected. I expected it to be just like learning from a teacher in a class at my school; however, I did not find this to be true. The online class quickly became a chore and something I dreaded to do every day. I did not thrive in this environment or learn as much as I believe I could have from a classroom setting. Although online education has become popular, online school cannot replace the education received in a classroom.
One of the major problems with online education is the lack of access to a teacher. Of course, there is a teacher for every class, but this teacher lives hundreds or even thousands of miles away, and students often never have even a phone conversation with their teacher. Students can have email or Skype conversations with their teacher, but this is in no way the same as being in the same room as the teacher. The problem is a lack of dialogue. In a classroom, students often reiterate what they are learning to make sure they are understanding the material correctly. The lack of visual cues that would be given by a physically present teacher also contributes to students getting lost in the information. In an online course, when the student starts to get lost, it is much harder to get back on track because there is not a teacher immediately available if a student has a question. Students can only replay the recorded lecture or reread the written lesson; they cannot request their teacher to rephrase the information and give an example that is more applicable to them. Also, online teachers cannot guide their students in the same way that a teacher in a classroom can. Without firm due dates, students are not held accountable for their assignments on a daily basis. This makes staying on schedule challenging for irresponsible students. One of the reasons students attempt to pay attention during class is the fear of being called on to answer a question from the teacher. It is challenging to pay complete attention to the task at hand when “zoning out” does not have any immediate consequences. An electronic conversation with an online teacher is in no way comparable to human interaction with a teacher in a classroom.
In addition to the lack of access to a teacher, there is a problem in online education with student motivation. High school students already face this problem daily, but this is an even bigger challenge for online students. It is much easier to get distracted in your home as opposed to a classroom. There are always more enjoyable activates in your home, but there usually is not much to do in a classroom besides listen and learn. The classroom is designed this way for a reason. Additionally, there is not the same obligation to pay attention to the teacher as when you are in the same room as your teacher. It is challenging to pay attention when no one sees if you check your phone or just wander off. Also, in an online class, you can press pause on a lecture. This can be a useful tool when trying to write something down if the teacher is talking quickly, but, more often than not, it contributes to distractions. Since there is the ability to pause, there is the ability to take too many breaks and get lost in the information. Another major contributor to motivation is the enthusiasm of a teacher. There is a monumental difference between having a monotone, boring teacher and having a teacher who is excited to be in the classroom sharing the subject with the students. This is completely lost in online courses. Reading a lesson instead of listening to a teacher passionately lecturing makes a vast difference in how the student feels about the subject and class. Students also feel more accountable to a teacher who really wants them to learn as opposed to a teacher with whom they have never spoken. Receiving an email from an online teacher asking a student to complete an assignment does not have the same effect as having a teacher right in front of a student asking for homework and looking on disappointedly when there is none. Teacher and students must work together to keep students interested in the material and motivated to learn to be successful.
Often when students are not motivated to come to school, they can still convince themselves to go to school for the social aspect. There are two primary social aspects in education. First, having an appropriate view of authority figures is crucial because these students will have to form professional relationships with their bosses in the future. Having good relationships with teachers also allows students to have good role models. In online classes, there is not enough connection between teachers and students to be able to admire them, model them, or have much of a relationship with them. Second, online school students often become socially awkward or reclusive because they do not have enough interaction with people their own age. In online classes, there are other students in your class, but the only interaction students usually have with each other is through online discussions. These discussions typically consist of writing a few sentences about something interesting in the material and writing a couple sentences about something confusing in the lesson. These discussions are the main social part of online school. In this way, online school can be very isolating. The community of a traditional school is significant in teaching teenagers how to develop suitable relationships with authority and with other students and is missing from online schools.
Although I ended up doing well enough in my online course and learning about physics, I learned to appreciate a classroom education experience much more. Being able to interact directly with teachers and classmates is tremendously beneficial to education, motivating, and succeeding in education. So how does this affect you? Be educated about the realities of online classes before signing yourself or your child up for one. Even though technology is involved in every part of today’s society, it should not be the sole way to educate. Technology has a place in modern society, but it cannot replace a classroom education and experience.