Online learning presents quite the challenge in ensuring that students are getting the most out of their classes. Due to the change in platform and the resulting fundamental changes in class design, the benefits of online classes are limited, and the flaws extensive.
The main weakness of online learning is that the medium doesn’t lend itself to an engaging class. Aside from being technologically problematic, group discussions can be chaotic since students end up talking over each other. Video calls are also inconvenient for discussion-based classes because they unavoidably change the course structure. In an attempt to reduce Zoom fatigue, for example, most of my professors have altered their course schedules so that we only meet synchronously as a class once a week. The other class periods are routinely spent as solo asynchronous classes or in small groups.
The problem with these kinds of classes is that the group and individual work may consist of unnecessary review, self-teaching or thoughtless, superficial activities. However, some of my small groups are dedicated purely to open-ended discussion, which is an incredibly valuable way to learn, especially in my literature classes.
Breakout rooms are another useful strategy to foster discussion but only when used effectively. Most of my professors only use them with surface-level questions when they are most beneficial with discussion-based questions.
Alternatively, individual work outside of class sometimes replaces in-class discussion with a written discussion forum and required peer responses. In this case, interaction is forced, and students focus on getting participation credit, not participating in order to learn. While this practice may reduce class time, it seems pointless to pay for an education with minimal professor instruction and class interaction.
While online classes are a more accessible educational resource in the midst of this pandemic, it’s a win-lose situation. Video meetings are needed to keep up discussion but they inevitably result in Zoom fatigue. Via an online format, discussion substitutions, technological issues and pointless assignments catalyze teaching at the expense of learning.
However, there are ways to minimize what is lost through online learning. I urge our professors to use more interactive discussions, in which small groups of students can easily participate, with work or questions that are truly beneficial to our learning and are not simply for meaningless participation.
Emma is from North Little Rock, AR. Her majors are Spanish and women’s and gender studies.