COVID-19 has now been with us for one year. During that time, we’ve learned to adapt, pivot, and overcome. For students of all ages, this meant learning not only coursework, but navigating the many portals, websites, and online tools required to attend class on a daily or weekly basis. Online education has unique ups and downs, pros and cons.
A recent report from the University of Illinois agrees. They show how remote education, while sometimes necessary, comes with situations which may not exist in more traditional classroom settings. While not considering the two sides as positive or negative, authors prefer to think of the disparity in terms of strengths and weaknesses: necessary but challenging.
The key benefit comes from the anywhere/anytime/any place aspect of the internet. Thanks to laptops, headphones, and Wi-Fi, students can log on and attend class from any room in the house. Online classwork often consists of a portion via video or chat (like Zoom) followed by offline time to work on assignments or projects. The instructional period can often be re-watched for clarity and teachers are available during the day to answer questions.
This leads to the second strength: students can proceed at their own pace. Gone is the pressure of a fixed school day full of regimented classes with movement controlled by the ring of a bell. While many programs still take attendance and require participation during specified times—especially to keep younger learners on track—graded materials often come with the flexibility to work on your own.
The major weakness of online learning may have nothing to do with students whatsoever. Authors admit that the primary issue arises from “equity and accessibility to technology” and computer literacy on the part of both learners and their parents or supporters. Internet access can be spotty and expensive, and access to a computer terminal isn’t always guaranteed.
Add to that all the workday updates, settings changes, server reboots, and other third-party issues which make technology problematic. “When everything is running smoothly, technology is intended to be low profile and is used as a tool in the learning process,” say study authors. “However, breakdowns can occur at any point along the system…Unfortunately, it is not a question of if the equipment used in an online program will fail, but when.” And if your IT staff—usually mom or dad—are also trying to work remotely, frustrations arise.
The other weakness is a flip side of remote learning’s greatest strength: flexibility. Educationally speaking, freedom requires students to be self-driven and able to make lists of required assignments, due dates, and project deadlines. But as many adults know, time management, motivation, and organization are tricky.
Teacher or student, parent or principal, you’ve made it this far and deserve a pat on the back! 2020 is finally over and 2021 shows change on the horizon. Use whatever tools you can—from EXAMgen’s question banks to an extra cup of coffee—to lighten the workload and enjoy these last few days of working remotely in your pajamas.