Online school: harmful or helpful?

Graphic by Ethan Gill.

Online school: harmful or helpful?

April 28, 2020

Entering the third week of  online “Distance Learning For All”, the debate arises of how effectively virtual school can replace in-classroom learning. 

Online school just isn’t enough

On April 13, the Oregon Department of Education’s plan for distance learning was put into action. Known as “Distance Learning for All,” it requires all students to utilize Google Classroom and other such resources remotely to finish getting their credits for the year. Currently, it’s the best that the state can do to try and make sure students are still getting an education for the rest of the school year, but it’s far from perfect. 

For starters, communication between student and teacher is severely crippled. Only things that can be answered in an email can be easily communicated. In classes such as math, which have a heavy focus on numbers, an email just does not do enough to explain a concept to a student who is struggling to understand.

In looking at individual classes, the amount of work students get online is nowhere near the work they’d get in an actual classroom. In an effort not to overwhelm the student, the classwork they are given is substantially less, resulting in it being completed rather quickly. Furthermore, the quality of the work given is also toned down. Teachers can’t give their students something super complicated, because they run the risk of having a lesson that students don’t understand and that they can’t easily explain. These school work issues are not the teachers fault though, as they are simply working with what they have. Rather, it exposes the failures of the online system.    

For all levels of schooling, next year will be more difficult. A study done by the NWEA research group reveals the impact of this online schooling plan for K-8: “Preliminary COVID slide estimates suggest students will return in fall 2020 with roughly 70% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year. However, in mathematics, students are likely to show much smaller learning gains, returning with less than 50% of the learning gains.” While this data may not include high school students, it is safe to assume that students will still be affected in similar ways by this online learning program. 

For many students in school, grades are another motivating factor. Though this is more of a motivation by fear of failing, it still is motivation. As of April 15 though, all high school students are only going to receive a pass or fail for the second semester. On an initial look, that seems to be a large source of motivation gone for students. Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. Now would be a good time to look into alternative, more positive motivation through grading. Specifically, more personalized feedback. Teachers, instead of grades, can now give students encouraging feedback on their work, and give them reason to improve by connecting with them personally. 

The final issue students are going to face during online school is a lack of motivation, though maybe not as you would expect. When students are going to school, for many their motivation comes from seeing their friends everyday, not the schoolwork. Imagine a world where when you went to school, but had no friends or anyone one to talk to. That in essence is online schooling. That is where the major lack of motivation comes from. But, through apps such as Facetime and Zoom, students are still getting the opportunity to see their friends, it’s just not a component of online school 

These issues are just some of the reasons why online school is not going to be good enough for students looking to further their education. But instead of just accepting it, students are going to have to be the ones to step up and take education into their own hands. If your classes are not giving you enough work, supplement it with reading from the textbook or finding online resources. Though it may seem terrible now, students are going to have to put in the effort in their free time and over the summer in order to make sure they can prepare themselves for next year. Even though online school is not ideal, students themselves can help to make it just a bit better. 


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Give distance learning a chance

Everybody has a different preferred learning style. Some people learn best from lectures. Some people do best with reading textbooks. Some swear by flashcards and some will promise the effectiveness of mnemonics. There are plenty of ways to learn for the plenty types of people in the world.

But a method which may have before been a disregarded option now comes to the forefront for many students stuck at home due to COVID-19 transmissions: distance learning, a form of online school designed to wrap up the 2019-2020 school year.

According to the district website’s page on distance learning, distance learning is asynchronous learning. This means at the start of each week for the remainder of the school year, students will be sent the entirety of their notes and work for the week, due back at various points, like Friday or Sunday.

This unique layout allows students the chance to work entirely at the pace they want to in order to finish their weekly workload. If they don’t feel like doing their math work until Friday, they can choose to do that. If they want to knock out their English and history work on the first day and then take it slow the rest of the week, that’s an option as well. If the student wants to barrel through every class in order on Monday, or wants to wait until the last second on Sunday, both of those radically different approaches are both perfectly valid options.

If a student needs to take care of their younger siblings, or needs to help out a neighbor during the majority of the day and can only do their work after 5:00, this system allows for that option. 

The flexibility is one of the many benefits of distance learning and online school. It allows students more independence, which is a beneficial experience for college, which is built largely around that.

It may even help students who struggle with focus due to the classroom’s environment. If the classroom is too loud for a student to focus, distance learning removes the classroom distractions.

Now, none of this is to say that online school is the be-all-end-all answer to all education problems. Even if some students fare better in their home environment as opposed to the classroom, that doesn’t mean that all students will fare better this way.

For example, online school will pose challenges for students who tend to get more work done when they have a teacher or friend to help keep them on task, or need a person to help them stay motivated.

However for some, online school will provide an alternative approach to learning, which is why students should do their best to take distance learning seriously if they have never tried it before. Maybe in the process they’ll come to discover a method of learning which works best for them.

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