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Online Learning: How Colleges And Universities Are Teaching Students Virtually

Students are seen on a screen during an online class taken by teacher Fu Zhiyong (top L) at the Academy of Arts and Design at Tsinghua University during a government-organised tour in Beijing on February 28, 2020. (GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)
Students are seen on a screen during an online class taken by teacher Fu Zhiyong (top L) at the Academy of Arts and Design at Tsinghua University during a government-organised tour in Beijing on February 28, 2020. (GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)

Online learning. Can it really replace the learning and community that’s being lost as campuses across the country are closed?


Justin Reich, assistant professor in the comparative media studies and writing department at MIT. Faculty associate of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. Director of the MIT Teaching Systems Lab. (@bjfr)

Christina Morales, senior at the University of Florida. Editor-in-chief of the Independent Florida Alligator, University of Florida’s student newspaper. In June, she’ll begin a one year fellowship at The New York Times. (@Christina_M18)

Dr. Amardeep Kahlon, professor of computer studies at Austin Community College. Assistant dean of Distance Learning and External Relations.

From The Reading List

Ed Surge: “The Case For Shutting Schools Down Instead of Moving Classes Online” — “Many schools are trying to figure out if they should transition to online or distance learning during a shut down. I agree with the Washington State department of education, which argued that most schools won’t be able to switch to online; they should just close and pick up in the summer or September.

“A growing body of evidence suggests that online learning works least well for our most vulnerable learners. If you are going online, the number one question is not: ‘What tech to use to teach online?’ It should be: ‘How will you support your most struggling students?’

“You may have heard of the ‘no significant difference’ phenomenon. That’s an argument developed in the 1980s that the medium of instruction (whether courses are taught face to face, by radio or TV or via computer) doesn’t matter; only the quality of the instruction does.

MIT: “Five Research-Informed Principles for Switching to Online Learning” — “Here are five principles, informed by research and experience, for planning a transition to online learning:

  1. Partner with Students in the Transition
  2. Strategically Reduce Your Goals
  3. Identify and Support Disadvantaged Students
  4. Help Students Form Study Groups
  5. Prioritize Time For Individual Connections

“The good news is that research suggests that advanced students with strong self-regulated learning skills—of which we have many at MIT–do very well in online learning. That has never been tested in an emergency pandemic, but it seems likely to hold up well.

“The bad news is that online learning research regularly finds that disadvantaged students– from poverty-impacted neighborhoods, from underrepresented minorities, with low grades/prior achievement consistently suffer an ‘online penalty’ relative to face-to-face courses.”

Active History: “Emergency Remote Teaching: A Post Secondary Reality Check” — “They fell like dominoes throughout the week as the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic became unavoidably clear: first, Laurentian University suspended classes and moved them online on Wednesday, March 11th; by the evening of Friday, March 13th, every university in Ontario had suspended in-person classes and declared that winter term classes would be completed online (or via other alternative means). We are about to see Ontario engage with technology-mediated learning on an unprecedented scale.

“The warning bells are chiming. Some faculty are wary. The Canadian Association of Universities Teachers, for example, warns against workload pressures that would now require ‘additional support for staff, such as assigning teaching assistants,’ and cautions that academic bodies ‘involved in monitoring the pedagogical effectiveness of temporary online instruction and to decide on adjustments or discontinuance.’

“Dipping one’s toes into Twitter and you’ll see rhetoric as varied as how this devalues the hard work of online education, that it is an impossible task being given to instructors, and – in conspiratorial tones – how this might just be the first herald of a ‘neoliberal’ move towards online education. Naturally, nobody would argue that any of this was ideal.”

The MetroWest Daily News: “From research labs to car shops: Framingham State, MassBay professors adjust to remote learning” — “When he dismissed his class last week, Framingham State University professor Joseph Adelman realized it was likely the last time they’d meet in person. ‘I said goodbye for the semester,’ said Adelman, who teaches history. “It was abrupt and weird and sad.”

“On March 11, the university canceled classes the week following spring break due to the new coronavirus outbreak. The move was initially meant to be temporary, with courses resuming the following week. Now, all learning at Framingham State will be remote beginning Monday, March 30. Classes the week after spring break were canceled to afford instructors time to prepare.

“Throughout the state, professors are scrambling to rethink their classes for the digital world.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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