In my time at Georgia Tech, online learning has been a prevalent force from day one of classes. In my freshman year I was introduced to MyMathLab, a website by Pearson Higher Education that provided a platform that was my textbook, homework, and practice quizzes all rolled into one. Over the course of my two years working with the software I have gained a pretty good understanding of where it enhances and hinders my learning. On one hand, having all of my resources available online is incredibly useful, especially for someone who has a habit of misplacing papers and ending up in frantic searches for that *one* textbook page that I can now easily mark and highlight for return trips. This also applies for having a nice notification on when my next homework is due, without searching for calendar entries or scanning my syllabi. However, things are not all bright and easy with this new system. It has some very frustrating drawbacks, one of the biggest ones being that it won’t account for human entry error like a standard homework assignment would. For example, if a problem requires a certain simplification or doesn’t want a decimal answer, you can have the correct answer in the wrong format and it will give you a wrong answer prompt without alerting you to the issue being format not content. It also doesn’t provide for a very viable reverse engineering of problems. In classic textbook scenarios you can check your answer against the books, and look for where you went wrong, and helps to cement concepts and problems in your mind. This in combination with having the physical notes to look back upon both give very big advantages to classic problem solving.
When working problems online and just typing answers into a box, it creates an “inconvenience” regarding obtaining additional paper and pencil to work out the problems. Within math especially, this causes a bad trend of guessing at the answer or trying mental math that is outside of my scope, because it acts as the path of least resistance. For many people this will not be an issue, but I have talked to several other students who have had similar experiences. I’m not sure if that is just getting too hung up on the convenience of the “Give example” feature which leads to just using number replacement to come to an answer instead of an understanding of the problem, or the use of the vast knowledge of online forum boards and answer sites (i.e. Chegg). These are all obviously issues as the software is often designed to give this assistance as a method to learn, but it is often used as a way to quickly and efficiently finish assignments without truly gaining from them.
So what can be done to address the issues that arise with this new technology? A ‘regressive’ solution is to take a step back, and have a mix of classic and modern homeworks, i.e. consistent online homeworks, but also heavier occasional handwritten homeworks that encourage truly engaging in the homework and writing out all the steps. These homeworks also tend to give the professor the ability to make the problem of a difficulty or complexity that the problem can’t be glazed over using online resources. As the technology for answer recognition and keyboard input in a STEM setting improves, online learning will be able to gain this advantage and achieve the complexity needed to engage students.
In the meantime, if you are a student taking an online class or using online technology in your classroom’s there are a few things that can enhance your learning experience and minimize some of the difficulties of online learning, while maximizing the benefits:
As for the teachers side of online education things get a little bit trickier. On one hand you need to engage students as much as possible, but that must be balanced alongside not creating lengthy consistent assignments that must be hand checked for every assignment turned in. A software that created an impressive balance of this was WebAssign, which was used within my Physics class. Instead of working a problem and trying to arrive in just one shot (though it did happen on occasion) the problem would instead be broken up into several smaller segments, where you would be entering pieces of the final calculations as progressive answers. This system created more of an opportunity to figure out why your numbers were right or wrong, as well as felt less frustrating as it wasn’t all or nothing. Obviously this system wouldn’t function as well with one step problems, but instead is aimed at multi-step higher education ideas.
So as a whole, technology and education have started their integration, and definitely have some kinks that they will need to iron out. The ease and accessibility of online content greatly overwhelms the few drawbacks that mostly eliminated by the habits that will begin to be adopted alongside the technology. Going forth I expect that the technology and its use will only increase in use, and become a staple part of today’s education.