Broken Pencil Society

By DJ Hosley


As the technology age continues to flourish, it seems educators are having a harder time than ever keeping the attention of young students. However, the rise of online classes may seem to be a way for education to keep up with a furious finger-tapping, broken pencil society.

But educators trying to adapt to students still have it all wrong – giving a class through the all-too-familiar computer screen does not increase a student’s drive to learn. Just because the students will  line up to sign up doesn’t mean they’re more interested in the course material and achieving the overarching education goals – not even close.

Online classes promote a quick, flavorless, microwaveable bowl of distracted slack.

When I was in high school, I enrolled in the Virtual High School (VHS) that was offered at my school. There was was a wide catalog of available classes, ranging from just about every major that you’d see within an undergraduate college program. The class met like a traditional classroom, but it was in a computer lab and there was no teacher.

Only about a handful of students had even enrolled in the class, making very slim attendance common as many students simply did not show up on a day-to-day basis.

Regardless, even if there was a teacher or a coordinator present in the room, they weren’t signed up for the class and therefore wouldn’t be able to see my class syllabus or progress on assignments. On the rare occasion that they did walk by my computer and noticed I was playing Zombocalypse, or Tanks on Egg2, or some other game on a free online games website, I could just tell them I had finished my work for the week.

That raises another point of critique with online classes – the structure. Every online class that I have taken, whether VHS in high school or in college at Worcester State, is on a week-to-week schedule. That means that all assignments are assigned Monday and are due next Monday. Now, I’m not saying all classes are like this, but in my experience, 4/4 classes did just that.

This semester, I have three traditional classes and two online classes. Naturally, as if it were a wired function of my brain’s machinery, I always tuck my online classes to the side until the due date arrives. I feel like a horrible student as I open the announcement for the week and assignment clarification on the same day that the assignment is due.

But I shouldn’t feel so bad. I notice my online classmates doing the same thing. Perhaps a handful of the 25 students post the day before the due date, but the majority post hours, even minutes, before the deadline of midnight.

In the next few days, we are supposed to comment on three of our classmates’ posts to create some sort of discussion. Truthfully, it’s a torturous failure. I plugged my way through chapters of skim-reading and wrote my “B.S.” post disguised with as much thoughtful, genuine, intuitive words I could find on my background tab. I don’t want to read my classmates’ work, who essentially commented on the same points, just less eloquently.

“This was great work DJ. I agree with the point you made on the use of alliteration in the second and fourth stanza. I think it made the poem sound a lot smoother – John Smith”. Well, thank you, John Smith, your discussion point truly brought me to a higher level of critical thinking about the poem I read. I’ll see you next week, minutes before the deadline.

Sigh. Back to Facebook, or Twitter, or whatever social media platform I was distracting myself with.

It is an easy conclusion for me to make that students will be more distracted with online classes than they would be with physical people speaking physical words in the physical environment of the classroom. The idea that students will be more focused on their own with online classes is a myth I have personally busted.

There is one convenience of online classes however, and there is one category of student that online classes would really benefit. Online classes are perfect if you need to stay at home. Saving time and money on the commute is the bait-and-hook that lured me in (and many others, I assume).

Ron Aupperlee Jr., 24, recounts a friend of his whose schedule needed the flexibility that online classes offer.

“She had a full time job and bills to pay and wouldn’t have been able to even get proper schooling had she needed to be at a physical location,” he claims.

“I thought taking an online class was convenient but that was the only perk,” said Kristi Fritscher, 30, a recent graduate. “I learned a lot more by attending class and interacting with students and my professor.”

“Online classes were easy but if you need help it’s hard if you don’t know the topic very well,” adds Zack Buckman, 22. “I enjoyed not having to commute but having to check my email and blackboard all the time was annoying.”

“I’ve taken about 9 online classes. The hardest part is that some of the material needs to be hands on,” said Jose Correa, 21. “You also need to teach yourself when it comes to online classes and it’s harder to get help.”

I was an education minor at one point and was looking forward to a career teaching high school students in a traditional classroom. Among the most important sections we had to study was implementing technology in the classroom – essentially, speaking the language of the student to get to the student.

While I support giving the time and effort needed to promote technology in the classroom, it has to be in the traditional classroom, monitored by a teacher who’s an expert of the technology as well as an expert of the subject material.

Education is all about adaptation. Answering the problem of today’s distracted, unmotivated, finger-tapping students with more technology is like fighting fire with fire. Learning needs to happen in the classroom. Online classes are simply too big of a step right now.

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1 Comment

  1. You can only learn so much in an online course. The educators want to get paid and in most cases get paid per student. It’s a fix for both the educator and the student because each can get what they want – money and college credits. It is not nearly as valuable to a student as being taught in person or hands-on and is not any cheaper (I may be wrong).

    It’s a nice topic to shed light on. Good read.

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