It’s interesting on how a slight change in wording can make a big difference in how you view a statement. These questions are all worded well to encourage a mix of ideas and opinions, which is what makes for a more interesting debate. Being reminded of those words is also what has made me side with one group or another.
I entered this debate, as many of us, with a bitter taste in my mouth of online schooling. I remember that rush to get prepared for something we were never trained to do. Our families also had an enormous responsibility placed at their feet while they were dealing with the trauma and unknown of a global pandemic. Students told me of how they avoided work, played games while in class, roasted each other while the teacher was working with them, and generally revelled in how they got away with it. So once again I came in agreeing with the debate statement that online education was hurting children’s social and academic development.
As Agree began I found myself checking off the points they made from my own experiences.
Adds to the socioeconomic divide? Check. My students with one laptop and 5 kids at home had a hard decision to make when it came to who was going to “school” that day.
Not Equitable? Check. Students with at home parents had a huge advantage and were able to get more work done, and typically at a higher quality. Sometimes too good…
Increase in screen time? Check. I would work into my day plans time when students had to go outside to get some fresh air. Too many went from online school, to online games. Parker (2021) has found that critical thinking and engagement does not improve with additional screen time.
Not a good replacement for social interactions? Check. While my own debate discussed the benefits of social media, I have definitely noticed a lack of social skills when students returned to in person class.
Information overload? Check. A number of parents complained to me about how difficult it was to watch and keep track of the various classes each of their children had to deal with.
Difficulty separating home and school life? Double check. This is always a challenge for teachers, you could always work on something. When my classroom was just down the stairs, it was hard to set aside those assignments I had to grade; especially when they were arriving at all hours of the day and night.
Loss of a safe space. This one was the hardest. For most students home is a safe place. Not everyone. Look at the students that lose control near school breaks, not all of them are excited. There were far too many teachers who were terrified for their students.
Disagree began with a key word to the debate; choice. We were viewing this debate through jaded eyes. Online schooling can be a choice, and when it is a choice it can be an effective one. Even when I was struggling with online classes I saw some benefits. My students could choose their schedule to suit their needs and circumstance. They were learning skills that have been transferred to in person classes. I have far more students typing their work and developing digital slideshows than before. I could also set up office hours to give concentrated one on one help. In a busy classroom that was never a possibility.
Disagree also brought up a number of points I had never considered. It provides transient students with some form of stability. They may be moving from place to place, but their classroom is the same. Students who struggle with accessibility issues (Online Degrees.com. 2022) or anxiety were on a more level playing field when everyone was appearing on a screen. Murphy, Malenczak, and Ghajar’s study (2019) demonstrated that students with psychiatric disabilities could function better online, giving them more autonomy over their education.
Despite those benefits, I found that for the majority of my students online schooling was not as effective. Agree’s message that too much flexibility led to procrastination was very true. Half my day was checking emails for assignments and sending messages looking for missing ones. Students that needed in person supports were out of luck. Speaking to teachers of younger grades, they were crushed by the amount of preparation and struggle to control a room full of “littles” on a screen.
Disagree battled back, reminding us that online learning is an option. It is not replacing in person learning, it’s giving an alternative to those that need it. I set my fear aside of returning to online school and accepted that just because it wasn’t for me did not mean it was wrong for everyone. I reminded myself of the one student I had who thrived and went from a middle of the road learner to top of the class. In the end Disagree won me over with that word, choice.