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Debate about schooling continues

Coronavirus still plagues online learning for all ages

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought challenges and stress into the lives of Americans. Since March, everything that was once simple and definitive has been up in the air, including employment, income, and education.

The debate regarding online education has been prominent since late March, when schools and universities first transitioned their students to online instruction to prevent community spread of COVID-19.

Arguments arose regarding the practicality of online instruction. Many parents argued that it would be difficult and stressful to teach their students from home due to unpredictable, untrustworthy Internet access. Some stated that they couldn’t afford the supplies and technology necessary to conduct their children’s education. Others put forward no complaints and agreed that online instruction was what was best for their children.

Students, ranging from the elementary school level through university level, and their educators have been navigating the turbulent waters of online education since the commencement of the 2020-2021 school year. The reviews on this new way of learning are mixed.

Jesse Mcgilton, a  5th grade student at North Elementary School in Morgantown, W.Va., said he doesn’t prefer online learning.

“It was difficult to go from in-person to online for me,” Mcgilton said, citing his need to be physically present in a classroom with a teacher and friends as a few of the reasons why he prefers in-person education.

“I learn better in person…it’s hard to learn math online,” Mcgilton said.

Sadie Braun, an 8th grade student at South Middle School in Morgantown, W.Va., said that while the transition from in-person education to online instruction was easy for her, she isn’t fond of online classes.

“We get more work and our tests are short,” said Braun. “If you get two answers wrong, you fail.”

Braun also finds it difficult to concentrate on online work, and is often frustrated by technical difficulties.

Shyanne Hillard, a graduate student attending West Virginia University, has a contradicting opinion. “I like online learning because I like to be able to work at my own pace,” said Hillard. “I like to explore new and fun online tools, and I like the power of online communication.”

Hillard noted that she, too, has faced many challenges in adapting to online learning, including video conference interruptions, the confusion of adapting to new technology, and fatigue associated with prolonged usage of computers.

Despite those challenges, Hillard acknowledges the importance of online learning.

“Online learning is a necessity in the 21st century,” said Hillard. “If Millennials are ‘digital natives,’ the Gen Z generation is the truly digital generation.”

Alex Burns is a graduate instructor and PhD candidate in military history. Burns has taught military history both online and in-person at West Virginia University since 2015.

“I’ve taught online since right when I began my career,” Burns said. “It’s always a little bit different, even in a normal time.”

“Traditionally, I would say that one of the real advantages of online learning is it makes college and all the benefits that a college education can bring available to non-traditional students,” Burns said.

“I like teaching online. I’ve done it for almost 7 years now,” Burns continued. “But I enjoy teaching in-person more. I don’t think that there’s any sense of reward as an instructor like the sense of reward you get when you’re teaching in the classroom, and students are discussing among themselves really important issues, and you see the students’ eyes light up when they’ve made connections they’ve not made previously.

 “I don’t know that teaching online can fully replace [the] sense of accomplishment in the classroom,” Burns said.