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Debate #8: Can Online Education Be Detrimental to Our Students?

For many educators, this topic probably brought up many memories of teaching online for 3 months starting in March 2020. If you were unlucky (or lucky depending on your opinion on this topic) many teachers also spent weeks teaching online in 2021-2022 ( 10 weeks for me!).

Of course, online learning due to a pandemic is different than normal online education. We weren’t ready for it. It’s important to keep in mind that we didn’t have a choice to be online or not. Our teachers and students did not have the skills or knowledge to be thrown a massive curveball in our routine. Of course, some students ( who choose to be online) thrive when learning remotely. However, they need to be ready for it. Students who need to be in the classroom can really struggle online for various reasons.

Agree- Yes, Online Education is Detrimental to the Social and Academic Development of Children

The agree side (Britney S., Kayla, and Colton) started off our last debate with many valid points. Here are three that caught my eye:

1.Mental Health Issues Emerge

If a student enrolls in virtual education, they definitely miss out on some important developmental skills. We discussed in our class how social skills are taught at school like communication, conflict resolution, and even learning through play (like in kindergarten).

Clanbeat talks about social development in their article about online education and the impact it has on children: “When it comes to online learning there’s always a risk that children will become socially isolated. The risk increases even more for vulnerable children, or those from low-income families. Feelings of isolation are bad for both children’s social development and academic achievement. This is why children must never be left feeling isolated when they’re learning online”.

Time spent on screens can cause fatigue, loneliness, developmental delays, and the inability to process information. Being online also causes many students stress and anxiety. A student’s mental health can be severelt compromised due to online education. I also appreciated that Kayla brought up how students may feel that school is their safe space. Some students do not feel comfortable or secure at home. Sometimes, the classroom is where many kids feel welcomed and safe.

2. Online Education Causes Inequalities

This point reminded me a lot of emergency learning. In education, we always talked about inequalities and widening the gaps even more for our students. Online education can also cause more cracks and a digital divide. Online education can be costly with using devices, buying accessories, and the cost of the Internet. Not every family has the means to spend money on technology. We also have to take into account that not only does online education cause gaps due to digital access, but it also allows for gaps in other areas of a child’s life. An article by TheConversation, they explain that some families will choose online learning so that their child can help and work to help with family income. It also takes away from friendships and extracurricular activities since children are so busy helping out at home and trying to be a student. This means that kids don’t have time to be kids and miss out on learning so many important skills due to online education. All of the skills not taught during virtual learning causes children to fall behind when growing up which can then lead to inequality in the future. I teach in a French Immersion school and I know many of my students were unable to practice the language at home due to them being the only one who spoke French. Especially students in primary who were just starting to learn the language. I find many students to have lost many language skills while online.

3. It Can Be Difficult Learning At Home (For Everyone!)

As I am writing this post, it can be difficult to stay on task, even for me, an adult. Thinking about the tv in my living, my phone that is must more interesting, or even baking (does anyone “procrastibake” like me?) However, I already have the skills I need to focus, concentrate and motivate myself to do well without the support or encouragement from someone else. Children are still learning these skills. When kids do not have the support or someone to monitor their progress, they can easily become distracted by…pretty much anything that isn’t school. An article by TorontoLife explains the difficulties of being responsible enough to learn online: “Every stage of online learning has been a lesson in its limitations, with reports of kids missing out, falling behind and even vanishing altogether“. Also, some homes are not set up for online education. Some parents cannot stay home/work from home while also spending time checking in on their kid and making sure they are focused on their classes. As it was discussed in our class and in articles recommended, some parents had a really hard time with online education during the pandemic. Parents become overworked and stress which does not help anyone in the long run. Children need an educator in their life for support, motivation, and connection.

Disagree- No, Online Education is Not Detrimental to the Social and Academic Development of Children

Arkin, Kat, and Chris made me flip between sides with their video, as well as the articles and discussions we had.

1. Online Education is Accessible

Technology has always been a great advancement in making those living with disabilities have more freedom. When it comes to virtual learning, many students are able to succeed. OnlineDegrees explains how online education allows for many accommodations like online tools for learning disabilities. Online learning is more accessible for people with physical disabilities and those who struggle with social anxiety can thrive online. Online education can also be more affordable since there is less commute. Online courses are sometimes cheaper than classes taken in person. We also need to think about students with kids/family who rely on them that may benefit from learning at home. Online classes can also be taken from anywhere in the world, which allows for more opportunities.I have really enjoyed taking my Master’s Degree online since it has given me more time during the evening and had allowed me to experience something different.

2. Online Learning Allows for a more Customized Education

I remember teaching online and giving my students many different projects because they were interested and had the means to accomplish them at home! In the classroom, a lot of the times, students must do the same task at the same time. While teachers try their best to differentiate learning, it can be insanely difficult with varying levels of reading, writing, and interests. With an online class, they have more flexibility with how what they learn, how they choose to show their understanding and integrated it into their routine. Online education also allows some teachers to work one on one with students that need more support. I used to do this and it worked wonders for those who needed more help and could stay online without their teacher being too busy managing a whole classroom. Online classes can also be smaller than most in-person classes which makes it more personalized and helps to learn everything more in depth with more help and better connections.

3. Online Learning Teaches Kids Important Skills

If online learning is done right, it can be quite beneficial for some students. Learning online needs a specific set of skills that students may not get to learn as much in the classroom. Of course, students need to be motivated and responsible in the classroom, but they usually have their teacher looking out for them, giving them reminders, and making sure they aren’t falling through the cracks. If a student can succeed online, it means they learned self-motivation, responsibility, maturity, and self-discipline. It takes a lot to stay motivated and focused, especially at a young age. If kids learn these skills, they will have learned abilities that even some adults have not achieved! We also need to remember that online learning pushed for more digital skills, which allowed students and parents to learn abilities they need. Even though some skills were put on the backburner, Misirli and Ergulec say that some parents and students gained new skills: “The increasing use of technology for educational purposes during the pandemic has also influenced the acquisition of 21st-century digital skills” These skills will help them now and in their very digital future.

Final Thoughts

Thinking about emergency learning vs. online learning by choice,well….there is a big difference between the two. If a student is still able to connect, be responsible, participate and have the support they need to succeed, learning virtually may have more pros than cons. (I’ve enjoyed taking online classes for my Master’s since teaching is a busy and tiring job, it is nice to come home and be able to have more time during the evening. However, I’m an adult, so I also think it depends on the age.

Thinking about online learning that is not by choice, it can be very detrimental to kids. This is the time they need to develop social skills, connect with their teachers and peers, and have the support to succeed. Especially at a younger age, some kids don’t have the support or the technology to learn online at home. They also don’t have the skills like time management, motivation, or the concentration it takes to learn from a screen. I find that even a couple months and weeks online really affected my students and their social and academic development.

  1. Have you enjoyed taking classes online?
  2. Do you find that your students have had academic and social development delays due to the pandemic?
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3 thoughts on “Debate #8: Can Online Education Be Detrimental to Our Students?

  1. Thanks for the great post!

    1) With regards to your first question there are aspects that I like and dislike about learning online. Thus far I have taken a college certificate completely through online distance education and my masters has been almost completely online. I love the flexibility that online learning offers, but I find that I fall into routines I learned during my bachelor’s degree. I set certain evenings as “school nights” and stick to a pretty rigid schedule, otherwise I feel guilty that I am not working on the course. I also feel that it is tremendous cost savings not having to drive to a building which saves on gasoline and parking fees. I also find that most instructors utilizing online classes prefer scanned documents to physical textbooks, which further reduces the financial burden. The element that is always missing is connection with my classmates. I think it is difficult to get to know your peers and colleagues in an online environment, and I find repeatedly posting on message boards far less natural than engaging in conversation.

    2) I think that students are lacking resilience post pandemic. I noticed a lot of my high school aged students simply quit or avoid difficult tasks. In my 15 years of teaching I have never noted so many students dropping classes this late in the semester to avoid projects or exams. I also think that many of our students are coming in with large skill gaps particularly in basic math facts and computational skills.

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  2. Excellent post! I feel we have the same thoughts of online education by choice vs emergency online learning. I have loved taking my course online and was happy that I did not have to return to face to face. It has made life way easier and I feel less rushed knowing I can be at home in class. I teach in middles years and my students last year I think were more affected socially and academically then my class this year. I taught 5/6 the pandemic year and kept most of my 5’s the following year as I was then a straight grade 6. I struggled getting my already academically struggling kids to participate online. The ones who had no academic issues prior were there everyday and doing all the work. I am sure others and primary teachers see more of an affect perhaps.

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  3. This was an interesting read! I can relate to the accessibility and affordability online learning brings. It is such a privilege that I will be completing my program 100% online without incurring the cost of having to stay in Canada and visiting my family in the US. Though it does not feel exactly the same as doing it in person, with the comfort and flexibility it affords me, I will choose online learning again. I also acknowledge that it takes much more discipline, intentionality, and motivation to meet up with deliverables in time and make meaning of online learning. It is, however, too much work on younger students in my opinion, and may not help their all-around development. Hence, it should be used minimally, not solely.

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