Online Educating: The Pros and the Cons of a Pandemic-Driven Transition

Online Educating: The Pros and the Cons of a Pandemic-Driven Transition

Online Educating: The Pros and the Cons of a Pandemic-Driven Transition

The advantages and disadvantages professors face teaching from a virtual classroom.

 

By Isaiah Wolcoff

 

Globally, 1.6 billion students are experiencing the “largest disruption of education systems in human history.” Educators have worked tirelessly to ensure the success of their students in a digital environment. For the past two years, university professors have found many pros and cons throughout the transition to a virtual classroom because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 

Though some professors had previous experience with online education through asynchronous virtual courses—making the switch to remote learning a smoother transition—many others were thrust out of their comfort zones.

 

Surprising advantages such as the opportunity for shy students to participate in class conversations from the comfort of their homes can have a positive result in classrooms. However, professors have also had many challenges to overcome. Exporting course materials to an online format, finding ways to encourage student engagement, and maintaining an open line of communication with the class are only a few of the trials many educators face.

 

The first complication in online education lies in providing digital access to students, especially those in smaller cities or rural areas. Some students may lack the required bandwidth to reliably stream lectures or stay connected to video conference platforms. Others may lack an internet connection or device to connect with. 

 

Adjunct instructor of composition and creative writing at UAA, Pamela Simmons, says, “Delivering materials to students was a challenge initially, because not every student had adequate internet access, or had Wi-Fi in general at their own home. That was our first hurdle; making sure that all of our students were able to access those digital classrooms.” She explains, “Not every Wi-fi connection is equal, I have rural students who have very poor Wi-Fi with low bandwidth, and they drop calls or digital zoom meetings with regularity. Even some of the more urban students end up dropping calls just because of the bulk of the bandwidth that it takes.”

 

Even with students who are able to meet the technical requirements essential to online schooling, professors may have difficulty maintaining a dialogue with students. In order to ensure a student’s success, educators must be able to evaluate their student’s progress or see if they’re confused about any aspect of a particular assignment. 

 

Adjunct instructor of writing for UAA, Hannah Johnson, explains the importance of maintaining a line of communication with individual students, especially with the lack of a physical presence in class. She says, “It’s always important to keep checking in with students to see how they’re doing and to offer some leeway, understanding if they’re having trouble keeping up, or a life event occurs that prevents them from being able to participate in class.”

 

Simmons has seen this firsthand, saying, “I find that students are less likely to tell me if there’s something going on that needs to be addressed. I do have a couple of students who are really good at telling me when things are feeling stressful, or they’re overwhelmed by something, but then I know for every person who reports that feeling, there are five others who are not telling me this is too hard, or I need some assistance.”

 

For others, staying connected for too long can present just as many problems as a lack of a connection. Students struggle to spend hours on end in front of their computer, often sitting in the same room for most of the day attending classes and completing assignments. This can lead to “zoom fatigue,” and makes it considerably harder to focus and learn. Professors have also experienced this. , “The same is true for instructors that are online all day,” she says. “It’s a never-ending set of being digitally connected.”

 

Johnson reports similar experiences, stating, “You can always go on the Internet and see that you’ve got a new email from a student or a new assignment to grade. So personally, I’ve just been trying to regiment my time a little bit better, and have specific chunks of time that are dedicated to working versus chunks of time that aren’t, to avoid burning out or getting too overwhelmed.”

 

As professors grow more comfortable teaching remotely, more opportunities have arisen to give students and educators advantages in the classroom. For example, using the video conferencing platform Zoom, a professor can record and upload a video of the lecture for students’ future reference. Furthermore, because a physical presence in a classroom isn’t required, students are less likely to be absent, because they can log in from any location.

 

Allowing students to join a class from a comfortable environment can also put shy students at ease, potentially increasing their participation in class. Simmons explains, “Students are comfortable in their own spaces. For those students who are really introverted, this is a nice way for them to not have to break out of their comfort zone entirely to participate in a classroom.” This benefits many students individually, but it’s also helpful for the professor in keeping class participation and discussion active.

 

Virtual education has its limitations and obstacles, but overcoming these difficulties can lead to surprising opportunities. Simmons mentioned a few more minor upsides to online educating, saying, “I don’t have to make a commute every morning. When the weather’s bad, we can still have classes, so nothing is really getting canceled, at least at the university level.”

 

The transition to online education has been an extremely unique experience for many. With so much uncertainty, we must remember to consider the opportunities that have arisen from unfortunate circumstances. According to an independent report published for Education International and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), “There are incomparable opportunities for cooperation, creative solutions, and a willingness to learn from others and try new tools as educators, parents, and students share similar experiences.”

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