With the coronavirus pandemic spreading around the country, the majority of schools have shifted to online learning as a safety measure for both students and teachers. Everyone has been advised to stay home to avoid catching the highly contagious virus. Although many schools around the country have reopened for in-person learning, online classes have become the first choice for most others. The shift from in-person to online learning is both exciting and challenging. Students and teachers can stay safe at home while still catching up on their learning and teaching, but this requires many adjustments. For students, online learning, if not taken seriously, can turn into a web-surfing session where the student does what they want and ignores other requirements. Given the current situation, Ellen Laird’s article titled ‘I’m Your Teacher, Not Your Internet-Service Provider’ in the Chronicle of Higher Education website couldn’t be more relevant. In the article, Laird argues that students treat their online classes as the rest of the internet, expecting absolute freedom to do what they want and immediate responses to their needs.
Laird’s article summarizes some of the critical differences between in-person and online learning. One of these is the non-verbal cues that students and teachers both benefit from during in-person learning in the classroom. Laird says that in class, students can read her bearing; therefore, she does not need to share a lot of personal information. In the online courses, however, students cannot see their teacher face-to-face. Therefore, the instructor has to give detailed information about their availability or lack thereof. Laird also explains that online classes’ diversity can be challenging because students come from different backgrounds and situations, all of which affect their learning process and ability. Additionally, Laird is concerned about the students disregard for deadlines and consideration of reading materials with online learning. With in-person learning, students take things more seriously and will often dedicate enough time to their work, offering explanations for any missteps and challenges. The article is an honest review and analysis of students’ attitudes to online learning compared to in-person learning.
As an online student, I agree with Laird’s points. Taking classes online reduces the sense of urgency and seriousness of the class. For example, students do not have to get up early and show up for their classes. Physical class presence helps students take their work more seriously. Taking an online class also reduces the urgency to complete and submit assignments. Hearing a teacher remind me in person to present my work or inquire about my progress in class is motivation to do all my work in time or explain why I cannot. Laird also points out that online class forums lose their professionalism, and this is because students begin to treat them as a social platform rather than an academic one. Because students spend a lot of time interacting on social media, they forget that online class forums are not just any other webpage. Students tend to become overfamiliar with both each other and their instructor, which takes away from the seriousness of the class.
Laird’s argument that students treat their online class differently from a brick-and-mortar classroom is accurate with regard to deadlines. Laird writes, “Students in my traditional classes certainly miss deadlines. But they generally regard deadlines as real…..Not so with my online students.” (Laird 1) The main reason for this disregard for deadlines is the lack of urgency and seriousness within online classes that students expect to see in in-person learning. Pearl Jacobs carried out a study into the various challenges that come with online learning, and the findings support Laird’s arguments. Jacobs points out that interaction is essential for success in learning (Jacobs 3). Online classes do not have the same interaction level that would allow instructors to remind students of deadlines as in-person classes would. The minimal interaction in online classes creates a sense of laxity, which makes students disregard deadlines.
Students treat online and in-person classes differently with regard to their expectations of feedback. They expect their online instructors to respond to their questions and concerns immediately, just like a Google search would. However, the reality is that instructors need more time to respond to their students. Laird explains, “The speed of Internet transmission seduces them into seeking and expecting speed as an element of the course.” (Laird 1) These expectations from students are normal, given the quick results they are used to from the internet. Whenever one types in a query into their search engine, they get millions of results within seconds. They expect the same from their tutors, which is obviously impossible. Laird writes, “It takes me a long time to respond thoughtfully to students’ work, particularly their writing.” (Laird 1) With in-person learning, students would expect faster feedback. For example, students can ask questions during class time, which can be answered immediately, unlike online learning, where the instructor could find a large number of questions and concerns, which takes time to sort through.
Laird also explains that unlike in-person classes where students remain mostly formal, online classes tend to take on the over-familiarity that students are accustomed to when using the internet. Many students are used to spending a lot of time on social media and other online platforms where they interact informally, which lulls them into thinking that their online classes are a similar space. Laird explains that “The egalitarian atmosphere of the Internet chat room transfers rapidly and inappropriately to the online classroom” (Laird 1). This issue goes back to the idea of interaction that Jacobs analyzed. With in-person learning, Students see their professor’s authority from their interaction. As Laird says, seeing her graying hair and mode of dress would show her students that she is not a peer but an instructor (Laird 1). One-on-one interaction between instructors and students asserts authority, and lack of this interaction with online learning erodes the authority and respect accorded to the teachers.
Students also treat learning materials very differently in online learning compared to in-person classrooms. This applies to materials such as handouts ad textbooks. Online learning avails all the learning materials in electronic form, making it easy for students to click on a button and download what they need. However, many online students do not make use of such resources (De Paepe, et al. 130). As Laird highlights the difference with in-person learning, writing, “In traditional classrooms, students do not pick up or download only the handouts that appeal to them; most do not try to begin the semester’s final project without instruction in the material on which it is based.” (Laird 1) Online students in comparison, only make use of the materials which appeal to them, resulting in shallow learning and inability to complete their assignments as expected.
In conclusion, online learning is very different from the brick-and-mortar classroom. Although students are expected to put the same effort into their learning regardless of the instruction mode, this is rarely the case. Some of the significant differences between online and in-person learning arise with deadlines, learning materials, overfamiliarity, and unrealistic expectations. Before taking up online learning, both students and instructors need to be aware of the challenges that come with different modes of learning so that they can adapt accordingly. Works Cited
De Paepe, Liesbeth, Chang Zhu, and Koen Depryck. “Online language teaching: Teacher perceptions of effective communication tools, required skills and challenges of online teaching.” Journal of Interactive Learning Research 29.1 (2018): 129-142.
Jacobs, Pearl. “The challenges of online courses for the instructor.” Sacred Hear University. (August 2013). Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.sacredheart.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1007&context=cj_facLaird, Elle. “I’m Your Teacher, Not Your Internet-Service Provider.” WebCT.3 January 2003. Retrieved from http://celt.cui.edu/celt/webct_for_instructors/Laird_Article.htm