Online teaching hurts the weakest​ students

21 January, 2018 at 11:14 | Posted in Education & School | 1 Comment

Online-Teaching-690x350A single teacher can reach thousands of students in an online course, opening up a world of knowledge to anyone with an internet connection. This limitless reach also offers substantial benefits for school districts that need to save money, by reducing the number of teachers.

But in high schools and colleges, there is mounting evidence that the growth of online education is hurting a critical group: the less proficient students who are precisely those most in need of skilled classroom teachers.

Online courses can be broken down into several categories, and some are more effective than others.

In “blended” courses, for example, students don’t do their work only online: They also spend time in a classroom with a flesh-and-blood teacher. Research suggests that students — at nearly all levels of achievement — do just as well in these blended classes as they do in traditional classrooms. In this model, online resources supplement traditional instruction but don’t replace it.

In the fully online model, on the other hand, a student may never be in the same room with an instructor. This category is the main problem. It is where less proficient students tend to run into trouble. After all, taking a class without a teacher requires high levels of self-motivation, self-regulation and organization. Yet in high schools across the country, students who are struggling in traditional classrooms are increasingly steered into online courses.

For example, in so-called credit recovery programs, many students who have flunked a course in an old-fashioned classroom retake the class online. The negative consequences may not be obvious at first, because the pass rates in these courses are very high and students who take them tend to graduate from high school instead of flunking out. What could be wrong with that?

But there is something wrong with it. In reality, students who complete these courses tend to do quite poorly on subsequent tests of academic knowledge. This suggests that these online recovery courses often give students an easy passing grade without teaching them very much.

Susan Dynarski


1 Comment

  1. I was always too afraid to talk in class. Online forums attached to MOOCs often are more instructive than the class materials, because other students can still see things from a beginner’s point of view and explain better than an instructor who has been looking at the material so long he forgets what it is like to come upon it for the first time …

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