While many students and parents are not yet fans of distance instruction, online learning may include features that cannot exist in the classroom and that may in fact help students learn better. Here are a few early observations from this year:
Students can move, eat, and be in various positions during class
It is very interesting to watch the body language of an online middle school class. Kids can be lying down, walking around, doing art while listening, watching the lecture like watching a movie, holding their pets, and changing positions frequently. They are even less likely to miss class due to illness. Some students may still be in their pajamas, and most will have slept later than they would have if they were attending school in person. These opportunities to be present in class without the normal physical constraints are allowing students to experience formal instruction in new ways, and to make adjustments that meet their own needs without disrupting others. With stillness out of the equation, teachers seem to spend less time managing behavior (but admittedly more time managing technology challenges).
Students are coaching each other
While teachers may turn off the chat feature in Zoom, kids are finding other ways to communicate during class; they are actively using chat apps to talk to each other. While this may sound bad and/or distracting, a good portion of these exchanges is allowing kids to help each other out in interesting ways that can’t take place in a physical classroom. For example, if a student didn’t understand something the teacher said, they can ask others for clarification. If a kid didn’t understand directions, or needed help walking through the steps, they can simply reach out to their classmates in real time, and those classmates help them overcome the obstacle immediately. It never occurred to me that students who are lost in class could easily get back on track if they could simply consult with others very quickly and have their issue immediately addressed.
Students who can’t keep up with note taking in lectures can finally record them and/or turn the lectures into transcripts
As an Academic Coach, I have witnessed a decrease in the skill of active notetaking, and have tried thorugh various methods to find ways for students to record the information presented to them during classes. This has been almost universally rejected: teachers don’t want to be recorded while teaching in a classroom.
Now that everything is online, students can either record teachers during presentations or use software to turn lectures into transcripts. Students often have a very difficult time listening, identifying what information is important to record, and physically writing the information in an organized way without falling behind. Now, students can pause recordings to take notes, listening first, then writing, and work through a whole lecture without time pressure. Students can also read or highlight lecture transcripts. I think is this very exciting for students who are perfectly capable of handling the material in a class but don’t adapt well to the format.
Let me know if you have made any additional observations regarding the learning opportunities inherent in online instruction!