Virtual learning: a balancing act


Nell Jaskowiak

A student uses Schoology as a supplement to study for their AP Government class.

The change that has been rolling out around the district is now making its way to West High: every incoming freshman will have a Chromebook for this school year. Parkway’s continual expansion of online learning offers students a vast amount of opportunity and flexibility, but just like in Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility.

Allowing students to complete graduation requirements like health or personal finance that they do not want to put in their school day, take classes that are not offered in their building like video game design or comparative mythology and simply learn things at their own pace and with a completely different arrangement of resources, virtual learning offers students a plethora of opportunities to succeed. It is an invaluable tool and Parkway is making good use of the growing number of educational opportunities that technology provides, but as with all good things, we must be careful that it is in moderation.

With the self-sufficiency emphasized in online learning, relationships and connections are rarely made in those classes; students have no regular one-on-one contact with a teacher unless they specifically seek it out, and there are less opportunities to bond and interact with classmates, creating a weaker support and encouragement network for students. As such, it is far easier for students to disengage with the material and the class as a whole, leading to weaker lasting understanding and a much harder time sustaining an interest in the topics being addressed. This self-sufficient style can certainly be okay as a supplement to classroom learning, but the importance of contact with other people cannot be ignored.

Furthermore, virtual classes eliminate the opportunity for hands-on learning, be it making models or running experiments or simply creating a physical product to demonstrate knowledge and skills. An online platform may be more natural to interact with for some students than creating something with their hands, but even so it is important to have a variety of tools to use in the learning process and all of them must be utilized together and in a balance to maximize what students get out of a class. Sometimes, the virtual model of learning of reading an online article or textbook and typing up responses can be exactly what is needed to convey material, but it is not the only strategy that should be used.

A truly powerful tool is in Parkway’s hands with the embracing of virtual education resources and opportunities, but we all must be careful that we are responsible in how we use it. The virtual classroom and the physical one must work in tandem to create the best environment for our students, and we must be careful that adapting to use our new resources does not become an overzealous shift in how we are supposed to learn. In this ever-changing world, we must absorb what new techniques and tools push us to be our best, while still retaining what we know works well already.