The Good, the Bad, and the Ethical Issues of Online Education

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in institutions switching to online learning formats. The attendance of such classes pleases teachers, while student engagement and contact with the audience is not satisfactory. Let’s discuss formats, problems of online education, and ethical aspects that need to be addressed.

Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Facebook, Instagram – teachers and universities try services, platforms, video hosting, and social networks to find the best analogue of face-to-face classes. Lectures are replaced by video conferencing, or they are prerecorded and uploaded to platforms. Students and teachers exchange materials in special systems or on social networks. Today these formats have become the norm for universities.

All the same methods and formats have remained, but it’s all about the nuances. For example, let’s consider a lesson where communication with students is important. If you do not see (as in Zoom) all the participants or their reactions, then it is difficult to control what is happening. The same goes for lectures – should they be recorded in advance or broadcast live? Proponents of the first approach note a bad signal and hiccups on live broadcasts. Their opponents note the importance for the lecturer to feel that the audience hears him or her. I think we will observe a kind of struggle between formats.

For the new generation of students, technology largely determines the future formats of teachers’ work. For example, streams with famous scholars are gaining popularity, and they remind students of game streams. Formats such as short videos from TikTok will most likely be in demand in the future. However, the development of online education raises an important problem – lecturers need feedback during classes and approval from the audience.

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Technological problems

Technological problems arise not only on the other side of the screen with teachers, but also on the side of the students. Even the constant change of services cannot yet solve a number of problems.

The first technological barrier is the lack of contact and communication – the fact that even in the online mode the lecturer does not see all the faces (someone may be in the background or turn off the camera). Teachers have no idea what is happening, but face to face, they can see when the audience loses attention and needs to be gently returned to the stream of learning. There are different students – some are sociable and technologically knowledgeable, and it is easier for them, but others are introverts, which limits their involvement in the work. Sometimes, the class may consist of students from different countries and different time zones, which makes it difficult and impossible to synchronize online. It is necessary to think about overcoming technical barriers. Students receive recorded lectures, but they should not be put in different conditions.

The good vs the bad of online education

There are also positive aspects of online learning. Many teachers noticed that the relationship with students has become more friendly. Attendance increases in part instead of declines. But while online attendance shows the best numbers, teachers notice that student engagement is falling against this background.

When they come to college, they are more motivated to come ready. They connect to online lessons because there is such an opportunity, but the preparation is not the highest. Many students ask what will happen if they do not join online classes. We need to think about both positive and negative reward systems. No one has canceled the rules related to the provision of training services, but they cannot force a student to study if he or she wants to study through another platform and then pass the exam. But a rating system can help increase motivation: those participating in discussions and completing assignments should answer fewer questions in the exam, for example.

We should not exclude that the solution to this problem will require discussion and, possibly, legal confirmation.

Ethical aspects

As we strive to break down technological barriers, we need to be mindful of the ethical aspects of online learning. Teachers note that often during seminars, students and teachers discuss sensitive issues and express their opinions. Oftentimes, people are against the idea of saving and uploading the recordings of these sessions to platforms, even if it makes it easier for other students to learn. I agree that it is necessary to develop solutions for the culture of online learning itself. Students in their space (apartment, dorm room) eating or drinking coffee during a seminar or lecture will seriously impact engagement. The openness of such lectures is also a problem: after all, they are vulnerable to “trolling” by strangers – for example, intrusion in the screen during a class by a neighbor in a dorm.

As you can see, there are many aspects of online education. And, perhaps, in the future, all negative aspects will be resolved. However, online learning now has many positive aspects and fulfills its function.

Written by Monella