When I toured the University of Arizona Med School this year, the students leading the tour explained that lectures were recorded in real-time so students who didn’t attend could view them later.
A parent in the audience was alarmed by this notion.
“The students don’t come to class?” She was visibly concerned that the students were not getting a real or full education from this style of learning.
The medical students responded that they felt this version of learning was often times MORE helpful than if they were to come to the lectures.
Despite agreeing to disagree, it was clear that the parent in our group maintained her stigma of online learning as being vastly inferior or ineffective in comparison to in-class. She is not alone.
Myth #1: Students lose valuable interactions with their teacher.
Have you ever been excited to take a class, only to find that you hated it?
When I was in high school, I looked forward to my Anatomy class every day. Our teacher would play a close-up video of someone popping a pimple (shock factor) when we were studying skin cells… or tell us a story about when she worked as a paramedic.
My point: Often times a class is only as good as its teacher.
Ways online students engage with teachers
- Social Media (Some teachers may use Twitter, for example)
- Discussion Boards
- Email (Announcements, reminders, general questions)
- Video Chats (With screen share capability)
Arguably the biggest difference between having something explained in class versus over a computer is that you’re unable to sketch it out visually… but that’s simply not the case anymore.
Online platforms exist today where teachers can write, type, draw, talk and see students all at the same time.
The success of an online class falls more directly on the teacher to communicate the lesson by utilizing ALL of the tools available to them.
Myth #2: Students will fall behind more easily in online classes.
The stigma: If a teacher isn’t seeing a student, how will they know they are learning the material?
Counter-Question: How does an in-class teacher measure an individual student’s retention in a classroom full of people?
The truth is, students in an in-person class can still be on their phones checking Facebook or zoning out during the lesson.
If utilizing the tools available to effectively TEACH a class is the teacher’s responsibility, actively LEARNING is the student’s.
Myth #3: Online learning is lazy learning.
There is a misconception that because a class is online it is “easy” and even “lazy”.
But when I tell fellow college peers that I’m taking 4-5 online classes at once, often times the response is “Wow, that sounds hard.”
This isn’t to say that online classes are disproportionately difficult to in-person… but again, it really depends largely on the teacher and the way they choose to structure the class.
Ways that online teachers can measure student participation
- Discussion Board posts
- Timed assignments
- Timed Quizzes and Exams
- Group assignments (Yes, virtual group assignments are a real thing)
- Peer evaluations
Myth #4: Students are more prone to cheat in online classes.
There are many softwares that have been invented to help ensure academic honesty among online students.
Online classes can also use Aacademic Integrity software such as Plagiarism checkers that verify a students’ work is his or her own.
Myth #5: It is harder for students to understand a concept from behind a screen.
Actually… it may be easier.
See, in-class teaching tools are limited to the following:
- Size/Shape of room
- Size of class
- Technology in the room
- Technology brought to the room
An in-class teacher also has limited control over environmental distractions like noise, temperature and uncomfortable seating. Whereas an online class can be taken from a student’s couch.
Cozy and cheerful wins hearts and minds.
Sadly, in-person classes today can look a lot like this:
How many of us have shown up to class… just to listen to our teacher read off of a powerpoint?
I mean really, what’s the point of being there. Why not just email the slides?
Tools online teachers can use to engage students
- Audio recordings
- Recorded lectures
- Interactive powerpoints (Powerpoints with embedded videos, audio, images, and the option to go back and forth between slides)
- Online games
- Virtual simulations
- Real-time grading for practice assignments
- Virtual flashcards
- Audio and video discussion posts (These can be used between students)
- Live Q&A’s and video conferencing
And the list doesn’t end there. Technology has advanced so far over the past decade that teachers have an unbelievable amount of free, virtual teaching tools at their disposal.
In my online Astronomy class, I actually view the stars on a specified day and time… from anywhere in the solar system.
Myth #6: More assignments will have the risk of being lost to computer errors.
Although not the most common argument out there, this may actually be the best one toward in-person classes.
Yes, malfunctions happen. Yes, you can have a faulty internet connection when you take an exam.
However, just as you keep a printed assignment in a folder for class… there are ways you can “back yourself up” when it comes to online classes.
Steps to minimize online class mishaps
- Write essays on Google Docs so they save automatically
- Take screenshots of assignment and exam scores
- Take screenshots when you are notified that you completed an assignment/exam
- Test your internet connection before taking an online quiz or exam
- Understand your options as far as IT goes
When all else fails, if you’ve followed these steps and communicate the problem effectively, most teachers will be understanding when it comes to a true malfunction.
To be clear, this article was written to debunk certain myths about online learning in comparison to in-person.
As a student who has now taken 14 (purely) online classes and will have taken 17 online classes total before graduating from college, I can confidently say that I have taken a great deal of value away from my online classes.
However, not every student prefers online learning today.
The 2 main points I’d like to re-emphasize are these:
- The effectiveness of a class depends largely on the teacher
- If a teacher has effectively structured a class, the students have a responsibility to engage
What stigmas about online learning do you have, and did we answer them in the myth-busters above? Let us know in the comments below.
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