What should have taken sophomore Erin Scott two weeks ended up taking over a month, she said, as she procrastinated completing her online driver education course last spring.
“It was tedious to just come home and sit there for 45 minutes because (the lessons) were like 45 minutes to an hour everyday in front of the computer, and it got annoying,” Scott said. “So that’s when my lack of paying attention started.”
Still, online classes are becoming more common. According to the Indiana Online Academy (IOA), between the last school year and the school year before, enrollment in their courses jumped about 50 percent. Additionally, in early September, Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett announced plans to propose legislation that would require students to take at least one online class before graduating from high school.
But these changes may come with several unexpected consequences. Scott’s difficulty in staying engaged in her class may be one reason why, according to an August study by the Pew Research Center, only 29 percent of Americans believe online classes have as much educational value as classroom courses. Nonetheless, over three-quarters of colleges and universities offer online classes, according to college presidents surveyed in the study, and they expect this trend to grow. But while colleges and universities move toward online learning, online education still cannot replace classroom learning in high schools, according to Jan Mitchener, math teacher at both this school and the IOA.
Mitchener’s online students, who usually come from districts outside Carmel, she said, take online courses for various reasons. Some, she said, want to improve a previous grade in the course, while others can’t fit the class into their schedule. In districts that have dropped summer school, Mitchener said many students must go online to take the classes they need.
According to Scott, she just didn’t want to spend time in a classroom taking driver education, so the online class was the right one for her.
“(The online class is) useful, because it works with your schedule,” Scott said.
However, Scott said, she ended up spending longer on the course than necessary because she was unsupervised.
“It was easier for me to get distracted, because I could, like, listen to the (lesson), and then go on Facebook,” Scott said.
According to Mitchener, students who take classes online must be self-disciplined and independent learners who, when they cannot get a teacher’s help, can find answers on their own.
In Scott’s driver education course, there was no teacher—just a set of lessons and tests that were entirely online. The class itself was easy, Scott said, but if she took a harder class online, she would likely miss the help of a teacher.
“If (an online class is), like, math or chemistry, you can’t go to your teacher and ask for help,” Scott said. “It’s just like, here (the material) is, learn it.”
Mitchener said her online students can contact her and get help with their questions, but communicating is difficult, given her and her students’ busy schedules. As a result, she said, some students struggle to understand the content alone.
According to math teacher Kimberly Wade, who attended an online class at Purdue University, while she could have met her professor during office hours, she never did because she didn’t know him at all. This, she said, ended up affecting her performance in the class.
“I didn’t care to do better because I didn’t know the professor,” Wade said.
It is for these reasons that Mitchener said most students do better in a classroom than online.
“If a student can be in classroom, (he) should be in classroom,” Mitchener said.
According to Wade, high schools need not require online classes, since even colleges don’t require them. However, she said, students would benefit from gaining experience in online learning, because while they may not take online classes in college, many college courses incorporate assignments online.
“In the future, definitely, high schools should be geared toward technology (in) classes,” Wade said.
As for Scott, whether or not she takes another online class will depend on which class it is and how well she could interact with the teacher.
“For me, I learn better if I can interact with the teacher,” Scott said. “If I need help, I know they’re there. If I’m doing it by myself, then I wouldn’t feel as confident, doing all the work.”