Online learning challenges: Inaccessibility to tech and academic dishonesty

A new survey from Manifest shows that learning tools and apps could help alleviate remote learning concerns for US high school and college students.

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Without a national, or even regional mandate regarding remote, in-person, or hybrid e-learning for US high school and university students, the fall semester has left many students and parents confused. Some schools returned to fully in-person classes (which hasn't gone entirely well for some, such as New York's Albert Magnus High School, which began in-person orientation two-days before the school's Sept. 10 opening, only to unceremoniously go remote that day when COVID-19 came to campus). 

Last spring the coronavirus pandemic pushed schools to quickly shut their doors and shift to online. Globally, 95% of schools were closed. But despite current news reports of the opening and closing of schools, a new survey from Manifest revealed that 62% of US students are studying online this fall. 

The Manifest report noted that e-learning is "not just a passing fad," but likely to remain the new normal for a while, even as the pandemic wanes or ends, and further noted that the biggest challenges to e-learning for secondary and higher education are an inaccessibility to technology and academic dishonesty.

Online courses are either synchronous (conducted in the same manner as an in-class course, with set times) or asynchronous (self-paced). The latter offer students the opportunity of a flexible schedule, but may be more difficult for students to communicate with instructors. Exams are often essay-based with open notes, while some tests are virtually proctored by automated software to detect cheating.

SEE: Coronavirus and its impact on the enterprise (TechRepublic Premium)

Bad Wi-Fi

Clearly, online learning is wholly reliant on adequate access to the internet, and the survey found that 71% of students anticipated lower grades because of poor connectivity. Low-income families and students living in rural areas struggle most with accessibility, which creates a possible class-based performance gap.

The report further revealed that high-speed internet accessibility issues disproportionately impact black, Latino, Native American, and rural students and families, and creates an achievement gap as online classes continue. 

A recent study covering the state of Wyoming indicated only about 30% of rural Wyoming students have access to high-speed broadband internet. There's been an effort to expand Wi-Fi capabilities into rural areas, the report pointed out, and added that organizations are donating services. Unfortunately, laws in almost half of US states prevent local governments from providing subsidized internet to those in need. 

But students who are struggling with limited accessibility are also struggling to do well in school and their classmates who are better resourced do better. The performance gap may have a lasting impact on disadvantaged students, who may rush through assignments, anticipating their internet connection won't last to thoroughly review their work.

The high cost of remote learning

Remote learning is not inexpensive. For learning to be truly effective, students need tech equipment. Students must have/buy computers (27%), internet services (23%), webcams (21%), and microphones (16%) in place of pencils and notebooks.

Most needed equipment

  1. Computer, 27%
  2. Printer, 27%
  3. Software, 24%
  4. Internet, 23%
  5. Webcam, 21%
  6. Microphone, 16%

Despite higher levels of unemployment in many industries, and economic uncertainty in the US, remote school requires pricy purchases that weren't essential when students were in a classroom, rather than at their home school setting.

Experts, the report stated, recommend students and their families use free online learning resources to save money. 

Students with limited resources for tech, the report said, can find learning apps accessible on web and mobile devices.

Education apps on the rise

Nearly all (95%) of students used educational learning apps as a supplement to their education. Those e-learning apps will become increasingly important, and play a larger part of matriculation, as online learning persists.

Students noted preferences for the following apps:

  1. Quizlet (44%)
  2. Wikipedia (33%)
  3. Grammarly (25%)
  4. Sparknotes (20%)
  5. Chegg (21%)
  6. Cliffsnotes (17%) and 
  7. Duolingo (14%). 

Despite students' growing reliance on these apps, education experts are concerned students will be more likely to cheat on assignments by using them. Quizlet features virtual flashcards and quizzes and Chegg connects students with tutors and offers writing assistance. The report supported the claims of malfeasance by showing screen grabs on social media in which students brag about how "helpful" the apps have been for them. Students approach tutors for help during remote exams, clearly an example of academic dishonesty.

Remote learning e-learning apps, stated Manifest's report: Bridge potential communication gaps between students and teachers; contain gamified, multimedia elements to engage students; allow teachers to communicate with parents, and support learning and studying beyond a school day.

Education apps are incentivizing for students, and provide support to them as they access course material on several platforms, the apps' popularity are likely to result in additional services.  The report stated, "Teachers should ensure, however, that answers to assignments cannot be found in a deck of Quizlet flashcards to reduce academic dishonesty."

Just as the working world had to accept telecommuting as the new normal, students must accept that remote learning demands proper use of technologies, conducting tests and writing papers in good faith and apply whatever disciplines they exerted in a classroom into the online environment for remote learning to be effective in preparing students for the next step in learning.  

Methodology

The Manifest surveyed 400 students in high school and college from July 27 to August 2, 2020.

  • 51% were female
  • 43% were male
  • 6% chose not to identify
  • 39% lived in the South
  • 29% resided in the Midwest
  • 24% were from the West
  • 8% of respondents were from the Northeast
  • 20% were high school seniors
  • 15% were college freshmen and sophomores
  • 23% were college juniors and seniors
  • 26% were graduate students
  • 17% were Ph.D. students

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