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Opinion | Why instructing online is an inadequate way of teaching

Paul Ruth

As a high school teacher in Michigan, I have been ordered to continue education for my 207 students remotely with Google Classroom or with packets mailed home. My in-person college class that I teach has also been moved online. Having understood online education from a philosophical and historical perspective, I initially thought that, although a different concept, the education level would be the same.

Don’t get me wrong. The rigor is still there, the assignments are still there, the reaching out and motivation are still there, but the human component is lacking in some of the crucial moments as a teacher. Michigan school districts need to track engagement levels to develop better practices for getting students involved. When I first started teaching online this year, I identified which students had logged on, sent emails, made comments, completed assignment, or talked on a Google Hangout phone call, and found myself referring to students in my head by their nicknames and abbreviated names. 

This didn't seem like a big deal, until I stopped taking this personal connection for granted. I learned these alternate names from the students. Students would correct me, as I ask them to, on the first day of class while I was calling out the roll and getting to know them. Other times, students would call one another by their colloquial titles, having known each other for years as classmates. Knowing what someone wants to be called is an interpersonal development and relationship builder that heightens the possibilities of education achievement. 

It doesn't end with names. I find myself knowing when students are being funny on Google Classroom because I know them from their interaction, body language and facial expressions in the physical classroom. I know when to provide comfort because I remember the discussions on home life. I have plenty of experience making urgent contact to counselors and offices to ensure someone touched base with a student after learning of a possible dangerous situation at home. I enjoy standing in the hall greeting students between class periods, even if they weren't my students. No teacher educating through this crisis will take face-to-face interaction for granted. 

Technology is a tool in our 21st-century society, but as the economy develops and artificial intelligence changes the nature of labor, students need the skills that make us the most human. This develops from face-to-face interaction. Online education works well for many students, but not for the majority as the only means of instruction. We must make the world safe for students to return to school physically with equal and fair access to a brick-and-mortar schoolhouse. 

We are apart now, so that one day we can come together in person again and push education forward for the next generation.

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