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online learning: Why online schooling was a positive experience and not a struggle for children during pandemic

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For parents, children, and teachers, one of the most vivid memories of the pandemic will be the sudden shift to online learning.

Many educators, parents and children struggled with online learning when schools closed and were relieved when classroom activities resumed.

While the negative aspects of online learning have often been reported in the media, this has not been a universal experience.

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In my collaborative educational study with international colleagues on social innovation interventions to encourage and promote the integration and participation of young children in society during the pandemic, we worked with teachers as they introduced research ideas about teaching methods that support listening to the voices of children.

In our study, we saw that during the pandemic, for some children, the online environment was an extension of how learning methods such as dedicated conversational circles represented ways for children to share their opinions and thoughts.

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For these children, forced online learning has generally been a positive experience rather than a struggle.

In Canada, our research was conducted almost throughout the pandemic in diverse and economically disadvantaged schools in Eastern Canada.

Some students preferred online learning

Classrooms can be intimidating social spaces, and when they suddenly went virtual, some students found the digital space more suited to their needs.

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Xavier was a newly arrived Canadian who had just moved into 4th grade when quarantine began in the spring of 2020.

We learned that the online class gave him time to catch up in a welcoming space where he could develop his English language skills.

Developing friendships, relationships and achieving educational goals became easier for him when the confusion in the new language was reduced and he was able to learn at his own pace.

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The adaptability of the digital space is important. Stability, quietness, and the ability for students to go at their own pace – and some of the benefits of that – have all become more transparent with the move to online classes.

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Escape from language barriers

Online learning has given some kids autonomy and a break from the curriculum so kids can work on projects on their own.

In one home project posted online, Xavier built an entire city out of cardboard boxes left over from his recent move to Canada. He was happy to share it with his classmates, free from the language barrier that made his school days a struggle.

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When asked why it was easier to talk to each other on camera, Abdul, a new Canadian student who sometimes had trouble with English, replied: “Because no one could interrupt me.”

Some new Canadian parents were able to learn English together in a virtual classroom. One teacher has an email from a parent thanking her for her wonderful picture books and the time she spends reading daily.

Families reunited

For many out-of-province workers who live in Alberta but call Newfoundland and Labrador home on other days of the year, online learning has brought family reunion.

One student, Roxy, spoke about how less stressful life was in Alberta with her mother and father: “Mom went to work in Newfoundland online and I went to school,” she said. She was also able to help an aunt with a newly arrived baby while living in Alberta.

Parents play a big role

In our research, we found that parents also play a more important role in day-to-day education by learning from and helping their children learn.

Kids like Liv, whose mother helped her sing the song during show-and-share in class, have integrated their parents and home life into virtual learning. Although some children struggled to find a quiet place, even these scenarios had a positive effect as parents (reluctantly or not) entered into discussions about their children’s school life.

One mother, Tammy, noted that her children’s online classes gave her a unique window into a part of her children’s lives that she had previously known little about.

She said: “It was amazing to see the teacher interacting with the kids… My daughter was much more animated than at home, she shared so much more… She doesn’t always want to go to school, but she couldn’t wait to get into the Google class.”

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Free from crashes

Some children enjoyed an environment free of classroom distractions, such as school announcements or outrageous classmates. The children also got to know each other’s home environment, which fostered mutual empathy.

“Around everyone there was a home life,” one teacher recalled. “Pets and younger siblings have come and gone, phones have been ringing, people have been eating, knocking on doors – we’ve all just gotten used to it.”

Some students were quick to point out the extra time they earned by not having to code after school and babysit.

In our focus group interviews with teachers, they noted that some children who had behavior problems in the classroom did much better on the Internet. “Perhaps it made the learning environment a little less overwhelming,” one teacher explained, “and so the focus was on learning.”

More sharing

One of the best things about online learning for the teachers in our study was that all of their students could share on a more personal level. The break rooms allowed children to interact with teachers and their friends without interference.

Over time, parents and teachers also discovered aspects of the experience that they found positive.

In the past two decades, integrating digital devices into education has often been an awkward process, often more effort has gone into limiting their use and distractions rather than taking advantage of them.

As educators, we must rethink how children and technology can interact in the classroom, and the different ways children’s voices can be supported in different spaces.

(This PTI was syndicated through The Conversation)

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