The Online Learning Crisis

The problem with virtual classrooms and how to fix it.

Abbi Minessale | Content Strategist

Apr 13, 2020

By Abbi Minessale, Content Strategist

As the world faces new challenges with the pandemic, we’ve seen a huge surge in online learning. As institutions continue to shut down, schools and universities are scrambling to find effective ways to teach students from a distance. The quick solution has been to move everything online and have students teach themselves or have teachers lecture through video conferencing...but oftentimes the quick solution isn’t the best one. In LA, the second largest school district in the United States, 33% of students are consistently not participating or showing up for online classes. Even when students do show up regularly, it’s extremely difficult to hold their attention.

Online education isn’t a new idea and neither are its problems. The weight of COVID-19 is only highlighting the flaws in virtual schooling. The lecture format is already worn out and ineffective so why would an online lecture be any better? It’s not. The online learning experiment we are facing is an opportunity to figure out how to successfully conduct remote education so that when our current crisis passes we can do a better job of using technology to make education more accessible to students.

So how can we use technology to improve online learning? One strategy is to do a better job mimicking a classroom environment. Many of the video conferencing solutions schools are using lack security or only show the lecturer and the last four students who spoke. Can you blame students for zoning out? Socializing is an important part of any learning environment. Having a rapport with peers helps students hold themselves accountable and gives them a higher stake in their learning. So how do we incorporate peer learning when nobody can get within 6 feet of each other?

First of all, it’s important to have a video conferencing tool that can support any number of participants so that students can easily interact with each other in a natural way. Then, instead of lecturing about last night's reading, teachers can ask open ended questions that prompt discussion between students. For STEM classes, teachers and professors can give students a math problem that has been solved wrong and ask them to work together to figure out the solution. This technique stops students from memorizing the answers or googling and keeps them engaged because they have to think about their answers. For large class sizes, teachers can break peers up into smaller groups so that it’s easier to collaborate. With SignalWire, teachers can have access to however many conference rooms they need so that students can have the space to work with each other and teachers can hop from room to room to make sure everyone is on track -- just like in a real classroom.

Another problem students are currently facing is a lack of access to teachers for help. Many students are having to teach themselves and parents are finding themselves teaching 8th grade math (and realizing how little of it they actually remember). If it’s necessary to have self-guided classes it’s important that students have reliable access to the instructor so that they can get help if they need it. Otherwise, students will fall behind and grow increasingly frustrated until they inevitably just give up.

With advanced video conferencing solutions, like SignalWire, teachers can have a dedicated conference room with specified office hours where students can freely come and go to get extra help. This mimics the idea of after school study sessions.

Another great way to maintain student’s attention is to add some fun! Phones are always a temptation even when in an actual school building but at home it’s even easier to mute the conference and watch YouTube videos. Clever students are even recording themselves in a different lecture and then setting the video as their background so they can sneak off and do something else. As it turns out, a quarantine doesn't make focusing any easier. Who’d have thunk?

It’s not ideal, but if schools are going to keep students’ attention, it’s time to get creative. Instead of having a quiz, try having the students make videos at home explaining chemistry concepts or analyzing literature. Instead of a long project, assign groups to teach the class a subject instead of the teacher. This helps students hold each other accountable and is more engaging than writing a paper. If they’re brave enough, teachers can even incorporate Tik Tok dances...but only at their own risk.

Remote learning will never replace face to face interaction but this is a great opportunity to rethink the way we run our schools. If we start to take online learning seriously, virtual classrooms can become a great tool for learning, even when the world is at ease. With the right tools and an appreciation for hard working teachers, online learning doesn’t have to be a haphazard, it can be a great way to reach students in a new way.