Wow! What a great debate topic to end our debates on. Both groups did excellent jobs presenting their sides. This was definitely the hardest debate to agree or disagree with. I think that what we can take away from this debate and that there is no real answer here and that it depends a lot on what is meant by “online learning.” Is it the online learning the learning we were doing in spring of 2020 where teachers were just told to pivot and were thrown into it with little to no time to prepare? Or are we referring to the schools and institutions which have designed ways to present curriculum online and where teachers specialize in this? Is it something that is forced upon all students due to something like a pandemic? Or is it something that is specifically chosen by a family? So many ways to think about this topic! Let’s dive in.
The effectiveness of online school depends on access and socioeconomic status
The first point the agree team presented is that the effectiveness of online schooling is dependent on what type of access (usually tied to socioeconomic status) families have. As stated in Katrina Onstad’s article, the digital divide plays a big role. “This new playing field is not just uneven but riddled with land mines, where a lack of access to devices, unaffordability and bad connectivity deepen the gap between the haves and the have-nots.” The article goes on to detail very real experiences and issues that many students have had while trying to learn at home. These issues range from connectivity issues and lack of internet in general, to devices not working or waiting for devices to be given to them/be fixed. Often times, this results in missed lessons and a lack of learning time, or children who “vanish” and aren’t heard from again throughout the semester. These issues tend to affect families with lower socioeconomic statuses as they don’t always have access to reliable/affordable internet or own their own devices (in comparison to many higher socioeconomic families).
Online learning may cause more harm than good
Although giving students the chance to learn online may help them to keep up with their education, learning online also comes with some (quite possibly) negative “side effects.” Lana Parker’s article, as well as many others, point out some negative implications that come with learning online. Some of these include the fact that “online learning does not replace the complex, relationship-oriented learning and social environment in schools,” it is difficult to complete courses such as Physical Education and PAA style classes online, and there is increased screen time which has begun to be linked to poor eyesight. The Kentucky Counselling Centre also presents that there are many mental health related concerns such as fatigue, stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness which can develop or worsen when students are participating in classes that are fully online.
School buildings are safe places that many kids need
Another relevant point to this debate is that for many students, schools are considered a safe place. Often times, school is one of the only places where they feel loved and connected. There are also children (and families) who rely on school lunch/snack programs. For some, the school provided meal might be all they have in a day. For others, school is a place where they can escape abuse or violence in the home. Many administrators will tell their teachers not to do a generic countdown of days left until winter or summer break as it can cause anxiety for students who feel that school is their only safe place. When this is no longer an option, or time in the school building is limited, this can cause real consequences and problems for many children.
The disagree team (Arkin, Kat and Chris) also did an excellent job presenting their points as to why online learning is actually beneficial and helps to support the social and academic development of children. Some points that they presented were:
Online learning can help students with health challenges/disabilities
One key point by the disagree team was that the ability for students to learn online as opposed to in person may help students who have mental health challenges or who are diagnosed with certain disabilities. The article Kat shared does an excellent job by breaking down the benefits online learning can have for people with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, visual impairments, hearing impairments, and psychiatric (or mental health related) illnesses. Some benefits include: using assistive technology tools and applications available online, not having to physically rush across a campus or from classroom to classroom, being able to listen to lectures with subtitles, having the ability to review videos/texts repeatedly and at your own pace, and being in the comfort of your own home. Regardless of the reasoning, online learning can be a great option for many students as opposed to struggling in person or missing out on learning all together.
Online school is flexible
Another positive of online school is flexibility. Depending on the program and age level, online schooling can often be done at your own pace and doesn’t necessarily require synchronous lessons. This can allow students to set their own pace to have learning meet their needs. It can also teach students how to properly manage their time. Additionally, the choice of being able to learn online can be very beneficial for certain families. Families with children who are athletes and spend long hours training have many positive reasons as to why they might choose online learning. Another thing growing in popularity is families who are choosing online school in order to allow themselves more time to travel the world.
Some other great points presented by the disagree team include: online learning is accessible (as long as there is internet!), it teaches students important skills such as communication and self management, you can have a more customized education due to smaller class sizes and more timely feedback, and it can be more affordable than some in person options.
I really enjoyed this debate and this is the one debate topic where I can say for sure that there are strong pros and cons on each side and I am smack in the middle. What is right for one student is not always going to be the same/work well for another. I think that when we are talking about online learning, it should be focused on the online learning where teachers and students have chosen it and have had the appropriate time to prepare. Covid style online learning was really not the best. I know many teachers (myself included) felt like we were really letting our students down and that they were falling behind. But hey, this was something that was completely new to us. We did not have time to properly prepare and many of us were struggling with teaching things online having never done so before.
During online learning, I also saw many unfortunate circumstances of kids vanishing or “falling through the cracks.” We had families that we couldn’t even get ahold of for months. There were also many families trying to figure out how their child could do school at home while parents were also working from home, or were away working jobs that could not shut down. However, I see the possible benefits for online learning when it is a choice made by a family and they are prepared and expecting to do it. I know a previous student of mine who suffered from anxiety did very well online and I believe their family has kept up with it since covid. I can also see how it would be beneficial for families who don’t have typical schedules due to athletics, certain jobs, or frequent medical appointments. In the end, I think the choice comes down to what will work best for each individual family and student.