kitchen table math, the sequel: What do students say about 'online learning'?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What do students say about 'online learning'?

Last Thursday I was talking to 3 of my students about this and that when the topic of online learning and online courses came up. I don't remember why it came up, but it did.

My campus is keenly interested in online learning. It looks to me as if the college hopes to increase enrollment in online courses substantially, although I don't know this.

In any event, the topic came up, and instantly all three said they hate -- hate, that was the word -- online learning. They didn't just say it; they showed it. Their faces scrunched up the way mine does when I step in dog poop wearing my old Nike Free Run sneakers, the ones with the really deep, really tight, really white rubber cleats I must now attempt to power-wash with the garden hose.

That look, the look of disgust (here it is, modeled using 6 "pseudo-muscles") is meaningful to me because I was once given an extended parent-of-an-autistic-child interview, which took hours to complete, and one of the questions asked was: Does your child display the facial expression of disgust? I vividly recall, to this day, feeling relieved and proud when I realized that Jimmy did indeed have a distinct facial expression of disgust, which came across his features when he saw disgusting things. (Mainly poop, as a matter of fact.)

So last Thursday my students were saying they hate online learning, and their faces were exhibiting disgust.

Where there's smoke there's fire: where 3-out-of-3 students inside one classroom express vocal dislike of online learning, there are more. Many more, no doubt.

Why is no one listening to these kids?

That is a rhetorical question.

No one in the public school establishment ever listens to kids. Their misery in 'traditional' classes is simply assumed, and their future pleasure in flipped classrooms is assumed, too.


palisadesk said...

Well, I would not agree that no one is listening to students. I suspect that what students say, and their reactions to online learning, may vary considerably – by age of student, by the nature of the online learning, by the quality of the programming provided, and more.

My experience of online learning for students has been most extensive with Headsprout Early Reading which is an interactive online instructional program derived from research in applied behavior analysis, precision teaching and Direct Instruction. Nearly all the students I’ve had working with the program – children in first through third grade, for the most part – have been extremely engaged, highly motivated and have experienced academic success that vastly exceeded expectations (would you believe 5 years in 10 weeks?) I attribute this enthusiasm to the quality of the program itself, as not everything that is computer-based is equally effective or motivating for students.

Some online learning seems to appeal strongly to some, and not at all to others. My school subscribes to an online story site called RAZ-Kids which students who have internet at home are encouraged to use for supplementary reading. The quality is variable, but it is definitely beneficial and motivating for some, while others don’t want to be bothered. It’s not a teaching program, more like guided practice, but of course has value for those who use it to extend their reading, background knowledge (the non-fiction selections tend to be very good), and build confidence and fluency.

I’ve seen other online reading or math programs which I consider low quality, however -- boring, poorly organized and presented, providing little or no useful feedback or corrective routines, and definitely no improvement over standard paper/pencil/book learning activities. It’s still a jungle out there – there are some very high quality products, and others which are mere time-fillers – or time wasters.

Parents of children with autism might want to check out TeachTown, which also has a basic skills and a social skills online curriculum. I’ve used the basic skills one for students with autism and also for two with severely delayed language (but not autism); this program too is extremely well done, reasonably priced, and provides lots of supporting data, feedback and instructional materials. Most student really enjoyed this program, but one did not. After insisting he give it a reasonable trial, I had him do other work instead. No matter how good the program, we have to tailor the teaching to the individual at times and respect that a very good program or service may not be suitable for a particular student.

Anonymous said...

Also the "flipped classroom" is not online learning. It is simply a substitution of video recordings for a textbook, with live class time dedicated to understanding material that has already been read or viewed.

If you can get the students to do the reading or viewing before class, class time can be much more productive, but students rarely do homework that is not turned in for a grade, so I suspect that the flipped classroom will suffer the problem of students not doing the viewing and hoping to just "wing it" in class.

Crimson Wife said...

I'm assuming these were your writing students? Writing classes (and humanities in general) work much better in-person than online based on my experience. Math and business classes, by contrast, I haven't found a huge difference in quality online vs. in a classroom.

Jen said...

I think that the class experience of seeing the other students, judging their engagement, and comparing your performances both in discussion and in the work is an extrinsic part of learning that is more or less important to different students.

To anyone who finds that sort of structure and the more social/comparative cues important (as I did, not to say that I didn't often wish things would move faster) online learning has to go to some odd lengths to replicate it.

I agree, if there are motivated students, having some sort of online component could be very valuable in terms of jumping into higher level discussions more quickly.

However, that's what the readings are for college classes, too -- and I'd guess it's a bell curve of achievement, with one tail doing all the reading ahead and one tail doing none of the reading and the middle doing the reading assiduously on the day they have to, say, run the discussion or are feeling very motivated, but more often only skimming or skipping it.

SteveH said...

"It is simply a substitution of video recordings for a textbook"

And it's not an improvement over a live lecture. You don't have a teacher getting feedback and adjusting his/her lecture.

I watched a Khan video on an introduction to limits in calculus that was about 12 minutes long. It was just a video version of a live lecture. Ugh. It was a very slow lecture that included redrawing of a parabola 3 times because he (the invisible lecturer) didn't like the shape. It didn't include fancy computer graphics or even pre-made drawings. I was watching someone draw everything freehand on the screen.

In a normal lecture format, the teacher introduces new material to the class, covers key ideas and sample problems. He/she answers questions and then assigns a homework problem set. The homework is graded.

How would you do this with flipping? Homework would consist of watching lecture videos AND doing a problem set from the previous class. What sort of active learning would the teacher do in class for limits? Would this sort of thing be done every day? If you are freeing up more class time for questions and answers and mastery of the material, then what you are doing is raising expectations by requiring more homework. Flipping implies that the work is turned around, not increased. So what happens to homework in a flip arrangement? Instead of weaving around desks, students are doing homework in class.

"but students rarely do homework that is not turned in for a grade,"

So much for flipping. It would only work if there were real student expectations in class. It would only work if the expectations were raised. That's not what educators want flipping for. They just want to complete the job of making the teacher the guide-on-the-side. Notice that in some of the articles, one of the things that can be done in class is individual tutoring. Wow! Teaching has now turned into "office hours". Watch the lecture at home and then do your homework in class. Teach yourself, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask the teacher.

ChemProf said...

Years ago, I wound up teaching an advanced physical chemistry class to three students. I felt funny "lecturing", so asked them if they'd prefer an independent study model, where I would put together modules they would complete, and we'd use class time as a tutorial. They unanimously said they'd prefer lecture (although admittedly, they had been in my class for the first two quarters already so they knew my style).

Interestingly, when I've told this story to "active learning" advocates, they kind of blame the students for laziness -- telling me that students have to be pushed to "take ownership" of learning and that students prefer lecture because it is easier. Then they call their model "student centered."

SteveH said...

I once taught a compiler construction class that had three students. I remember thinking that it shouldn't make any difference whether I had one or twenty-five students. It was my job to indroduce the material and adapt my lecture to the feedback I got from the students. Sometimes I could go fast, and sometimes I got the blank stares or questions that told me to slow down or take another tack. The "active" part of learning was working to get some kind of feedback. I never thought that acting out a parsing algorithm would be an effective use of time. "Find that token!"

SteveH said...

"Then they call their model "student centered.""

I'll blame the teacher for laziness. In my son's lower grades, he used to tell me that "that's what teachers do". "That" was sitting at his/her desk while the students worked individually or in groups.