The good side of online school: 5 benefits

By Demion McTair. Updated 5:55 a.m., Saturday, October 2, 2021, Atlantic Standard Time (GMT-4).

Discussion: Internet connectivity issues, distractions, and loss of physical interactions are a few key disadvantages associated with online classes.

Some students may also lack private and study-friendly spaces from which to participate effectively in classes.

The Covid-19 pandemic, however, has pushed us to work around those issues for desirable outcomes for our students.

As the pandemic continues with debates as to whether healthy children should be vaccinated against Covid-19, the immediate future of returning to face-to-face classes remains very obscured.

Further complexing this issue is the new wave of cases and deaths since the Delta, Gamma and Mu variants were detected in the country.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves signaled that a blended approach will be taken as schools are set to reopen on October 4.

This is likely to mean that we cannot escape online classes. As such, here are 5 benefits brought about by online classes and why we should not panic:

1. More flexible teaching and learning:

The ability to learn asynchronously is an obvious benefit of online classes, but what else does the virtual classroom bring?

Some of the other benefits including easily including experts in your classes, and incorporating more visual teaching aids.

You can easily include guest lecture presentations from other experts in your subject area in your classes, which will enhance the experience of your students. Additionally, you can appeal more to visual learners with still and moving graphics and other teaching aids. In the face-to-face environment, there is always the haste to get a projector to work, (or even to get a projector) to enhance your presentation. The online environment eliminates this and gives you more flexible ways to present information and foster participation.

2. Fewer expenses for students and their families:

How many times have you heard that students missed a class because they didn’t have the finances to attend? Finding money for transportation, lunch, and a snack for each day of a 5-day week can be very problematic for some low-income families. Some families may not have the resources to pack lunch kits for students and where feeding programs exist at schools, and government-assisted transportation arrangements are in place, there are still other expenses that pop up from time to time for students and also for the other family members.

Online schooling can help to reduce expenses associated with transportation and may enable better in-house meal plans for families.

3. More learning responsibility on students:

In the face-to-face environment, a disproportionate amount of time may be spent on controlling talkative students and addressing matters that require disciplinary intervention. Sometimes, having to pause a lesson to address these issues can unfairly affect the students who are diligent and want to learn.

In the online environment, with muting privileges available to teachers, there is more control over the lesson. Students speak when they are called upon to do so, or they raise a hand when they wish to speak.

If a student wishes to be in the background playing games, this doesn’t distract the other students who really wish you learn. If you wish to learn, you’d take full responsibility and pay full attention. If you don’t wish to learn, your indifference doesn’t affect those in the class that wish to.

Sure, a noisy environment at home may serve as a distraction in the online environment. Additionally, some students may be left unsupervised at home, thus exposing them to more distractions. This amplifies the need for more out-of-school support systems for students, as well as personalized digital (Zoom, Google Meets) consultation hours to provide one on one academic assistance to students.

Another area of responsibility for students is where group work is concerned. Indolent group members who are in for free grades would have a harder time in the online environment. With features such as Wikis, blogs, podcasts, and video submissions, more accountability is available to see which student contributed what and when to a group project. As such, there is a need for students to be more disciplined and take responsibility for their learning.

4. Fostering more digital literacy in a changing world:

According to UNICEF,

“Digital literacy goes beyond technical know-how.”

“It refers to the knowledge, skills and attitudes that allow children to be both safe and empowered in an increasingly digital world. This encompasses their play, participation, socializing, searching and learning through digital technologies.”

According to Western Sydney University (WSU),

“Communication is also a key aspect of digital literacy. When communicating in virtual environments, the ability to clearly express your ideas, ask relevant questions, maintain respect, and build trust is just as important as when communicating in person.”

Through online learning, students will have to interact with Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Moodle, Blackboard, and other platforms on which they would share information, evaluate information and use information. These very skills are the skills needed in the workplace today, which is increasingly becoming an ICT driven workplace.

Western Sydney University puts it best:

“In your workplace you’ll be required to interact with people in digital environments, use information in appropriate ways, and create new ideas and products collaboratively. Above all, you’ll need to maintain your digital identity and wellbeing as the digital landscape continues to change at a fast pace,” WSU said.

Additionally, a lot of training at the workplace is now being done virtually, using platforms similar to those used by students. The online environment prepares students for these digital literacy demands.

5. Holding teachers accountable:

Since lessons being held online could be overheard by anyone within the sound of the stream, students may have additional avenues for support in holding teachers accountable.

Additionally, the advent of virtual class registers, the increased need for detailed feedback on assignments could help students fight against miscalculated hours and arbitrary marking.

Also, since teachers are encouraged to send the syllabus and work plans to students, students can help keep track of what materials they should have covered at any given point in the semester.

There are many other considerations on this topic, but the five highlighted should provide good insight into the benefits to be derived from online classes.

All in all, a blended approach is preferred, especially since some courses have practical components which must be done in a face-to-face modality. Additionally, some students, through lack of devices, remain cyberspacially disenfranchised.

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