What Have Educators Learned About Distance Learning?

  • Thread starter anorlunda
  • Start date
  • Featured
In summary, distance learning has been difficult for many students this semester because they do not have access to computers and the internet. New methods are being developed to try and make the learning more comfortable for students.
  • #1
anorlunda
Staff Emeritus
Insights Author
11,308
8,736
The cumulative experience with distance learning must have soared in the past 2 months.
  • What has been learned?
  • What works? What doesn't work?
  • Are there new distance learning methods or strategies for the coming fall term?
 
  • Like
Likes JD_PM, hutchphd and Greg Bernhardt
Science news on Phys.org
  • #2
Probably the biggest 'lesson learned' is the lack of computing/internet resources available to students- about 30% of our students reported not having a computer or reliable internet access.

The second biggest lesson is probably that our students, across the board, do not like remote learning. Reasons and complaints vary, but the common thread is that our students prefer F2F environments.

After that comes the still-largely unsolved basket of deplorables: lab courses, clinical rotations, secure testing, ways that (highly increased) extramural stressors impact schooling, etc.

What does work- most people understand that this is temporary and are willing to endure. Most students and faculty are trying their best.

The main strategy we are currently working on for Fall is how to bring classes back to campus while observing social distancing. Most likely we are going to re-purpose large open spaces (ballrooms, atria, gyms) for certain classroom activities and use a hybrid course approach- both in-person and recorded lectures- to reduce the number of students on campus. That's a whole 'nuther topic: PPE for students, constantly wiping all common-area surfaces down, COVID testing on-campus, etc. etc.

Interested in other findings!
 
  • Like
  • Informative
  • Wow
Likes bhobba, kith, Klystron and 6 others
  • #3
(@anorlunda knows this already, but for the info of others...) Here at the PF the Mentors have noticed an increase in the number of new posters who post schoolwork questions and seem to have little to no idea how to start working on the problem. In more normal times, posts that start with "I have no idea how to start this problem" were often deleted and the user was reminded to show their best attempt when re-posting.

But unfortunately, lately we are getting more young students who really don't have a clue on some of the things they are studying, often because of the difficult distance learning situation that they are finding themselves in. Some of the difficulties that @Andy Resnick mentions above certainly come into play, including not knowing yet how to use the Internet to do background reading (at Wikipedia, Hyperphysics, etc., and how to use good Google searches with directed search terms). They may also have very slow Internet access, which certainly hinders being able to use online learning and research to help with their schoolwork.

So we are consciously trying to be extra patient with such new posters, to help them start to develop the skills they need to be able to work their particular problem, but also to get better at finding the things that they need online to help them overall with their studies.

:smile:
 
Last edited:
  • Like
  • Informative
Likes bhobba, WWGD, vanhees71 and 10 others
  • #4
anorlunda said:
The cumulative experience with distance learning must have soared in the past 2 months.
  • What has been learned?
  • What works? What doesn't work?
  • Are there new distance learning methods or strategies for the coming fall term?

I have similar experience as Andy Resnick.

I have taught blended/hybrid classes before, so conducting online lessons are not something that are completely foreign to me. Still, the challenge this time is to morph courses that (i) were not meant to be taught online and (ii) did not start as being an online course, into online courses. I have learned that (i) students who did not sign up for an online course HATE online courses and (ii) these students tend to do worse with such courses. My "A" students have dropped onto "B", but strangely enough, my "D" and "C" students have moved up to "C" and "B". Draw your own conclusions.

Related to that, one thing that has not surprised me is that I still question the integrity of tests and exams given online. I am no longer surprised by the disparity between students who take the same tests online doing significantly better than the ones who took them in-class. And then students who had trouble in their first in-class exam, somehow and surprisingly did brilliantly when they took the 2nd exam online. Again, draw your own conclusion.

But the other issue that was bigger than I expected, and this matches Andy's observation, is the lack of access to technology for about 1/4 of my students for them to go online. The school has tried to provide laptop loans, hotspots, etc., but sadly, I see that the students that are most economically-challenged are the ones suffering the most because they are unable to quickly access all the online material.

What has worked better than I expected are the live Zoom sessions, considering that most of these students are not used to lessons done this way. I still do most of the talking, unfortunately, but they are getting to get used to such lessons.

I am hoping that we are back to in-person lessons for Fall. Still, I am preparing myself over the summer for more training in online lessons.

Zz.
 
  • Like
  • Informative
Likes bhobba, kith, Klystron and 5 others
  • #5
ZapperZ said:
My "A" students have dropped onto "B", but strangely enough, my "D" and "C" students have moved up to "C" and "B". Draw your own conclusions.
Interesting. I can see the lower-ranked students improving some at least due to the test issues you mention, but do you have thoughts for why the "A" students seem to have dropped? Is it in absolute performance, or relative to the curve?
 
  • #6
berkeman said:
Interesting. I can see the lower-ranked students improving some at least due to the test issues you mention, but do you have thoughts for why the "A" students seem to have dropped? Is it in absolute performance, or relative to the curve?

It's absolute performance. The grades are not curved.

I have talked to a couple of them, and they were my strong A students. One student flat out told me that she dispised online classes because she knows that she needs human contact. She learns more when she talks to a teacher or another student. The other student said that the lack of "human supervision" caused him to simply slack off (even though I've been hounding him for not doing homework and missing pre-lectures, etc.).

Zz.
 
  • Informative
Likes berkeman
  • #7
My experience as a student left me disappointed with the attitude and efforts of my fellow classmates.

The online setting was universally despised by my fellow students. Math and physics is hard, and not many have the motivation to study it on their own, and frankly many did not put in the required effort. If it were not for the fact that most students could cheat I think many more would have failed or done poorly.

There were also a few instances of students coordinating and working together during finals. They were caught and punished. I also have two friends who work as tutors, and they were getting multiple offers from students to do their homework for them for money.

Overall, it was sad to hear that university level students would resort to such measures to get ahead in their studies. Perhaps I should have expected it. I have been searching for a study partner for two years at my school to no avail, and I often feel like the only one with any passion for science or work. This has all but confirmed for me that I am at the wrong school.
 
  • Sad
  • Wow
  • Like
Likes bhobba, nomadreid, Klystron and 4 others
  • #8
My wife taught middle school for the last many years and although she retired last year she still keeps in touch with many of her teacher friends in Ithaca. She tells me that they are finding remote teaching for middle school and lower to be pretty much a disaster. Some kids do OK but most do not. The reasons are numerous but the main ones are lack of computer equipment / Internet and student's lack of home supervision and commitment/interest.
 
  • Like
  • Sad
Likes bhobba, Klystron, atyy and 2 others
  • #9
phinds said:
The reasons are numerous but the main ones are lack of computer equipment / Internet and student's lack of home supervision and commitment/interest.
Yeah, that's a tough audience in the best of times. I can imagine it has gotten significantly worse. Sigh.
 
  • #10
berkeman said:
Yeah, that's a tough audience in the best of times. I can imagine it has gotten significantly worse. Sigh.
Calling it a "tough audience" is an understatement. I don't think kids today are really any different than kids when I was that age, but there is a HUGE difference in the attitude of parents and in the rules/regs that govern teacher behavior.

My wife's classes were not quite something out of Blackboard Jungle but they were not enormously far off. Students are totally disrespectful of the teachers and their parents back THEM up, not the teachers. The kids won't stay in their chairs, play games on their cell phones all the time, and a bunch of them are totally unruly, ruining the class for the rest of them, and there was NOTHING my wife could do.

She would send kids to the office and there was detention, both in school and out of school, but it had zero long term effect ("long term" being about 5 minutes for these kids). As I have mentioned here before, unless a parent came in and specifically insisted on it, no kid would be held back a grade under any other circumstances. They could fail every class and still just move on the the next grade. Many of them in the 7th and 8th grades were reading at a 3rd grade level, if that.

So lots of them were not getting an education anyway, but the remaining ones are not doing all that well with remote learning.

EDIT: and here is EXACTLY what she had to deal with with the parents:

1588893913966.png
 
Last edited:
  • Sad
  • Like
Likes bhobba, marcusl, Adesh and 3 others
  • #11
[ slightly off-topic, but maybe not ]
phinds said:
My wife's classes were not quite something out of Blackboard Jungle but they were not enormously far off. Students are totally disrespectful of the teachers and their parents back THEM up, not the teachers. The kids won't stay in their chairs, play games on their cell phones all the time, and a bunch of them are totally unruly, ruining the class for the rest of them, and there was NOTHING my wife could do.
Yeah, my son was having trouble in his math class in high school a couple years ago, so I got permission to sit in on one of his math classes to observe. The behavior of the kids in the junior-level HS class was terrible, and I couldn't imagine trying to teach in that environment.

I wonder if installing web cameras in the classroom to show the instruction and the behavior of the students would help. It should help to get more kids suspended for bad behavior with video evidence, IMO. And it might be a way to make the parents more accountable to their kids and the rest of the class.

[ /slightly off-topic, but maybe not ]
 
  • Like
Likes Buzz Bloom, hmmm27, bhobba and 3 others
  • #12
berkeman said:
I wonder if installing web cameras in the classroom to show the instruction and the behavior of the students would help.
Proposed (for the reasons you state) and rejected as too intrusive and "not fair to the kids". Morons (the admins).
 
  • Like
  • Sad
Likes bhobba, PhDeezNutz and symbolipoint
  • #13
Lordy
 
  • #14
I was already tutoring (not lecturing) virtual physics courses half-time and It is a disaster, the level of cheating and student that don't learn anything but still pass the course is almost unbearable. If it not were for the money I would not endure it.

The other Half-time I used to teach traditional courses. This week we started with the virtual teaching and I hope is not that bad though I'm skeptic.
 
  • #15
https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/04/30/what-are-some-key-decision-points-colleges-face

I think this article does a good job laying out the many considerations the decision makers face. The situation is very fluid. Fall enrollment deadlines loom. Wrong decisions could bring financial disaster. Will there be a "second wave"? It sound like a nightmare for those decision makers.

Primary schools must also consider the importance of the day-care function that they provide. Their decisions affect the parents who we need to return to work.
 
  • Like
  • Informative
Likes bhobba, Klystron and sysprog
  • #16
I think we've learned that "distance teaching" and "distance learning" are not synonyms.
 
  • Like
  • Informative
Likes Tom.G, bhobba, vanhees71 and 5 others
  • #17
anorlunda said:
Will there be a "second wave"?

Does it matter? Maybe instead of a second have there will be a new flu strain that hits in the fall instead. Is that any better?

There are good reasons for colleges to close, but student safety is not one of them. Do you know how many people aged 15-24 died of Covid in the US? 37. Total. Out of a population of 43M. Given a college full-time enrollment of 12M, that means 10 or 11 college students. Compare that to ~50 students murdered per year.

Now, protecting faculty and staff, that's another issue. Liability concerns? Sure. Reducing the spread of disease? Fine. But the argument should not be "think about the children!"
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Likes bhobba, wukunlin, nsaspook and 1 other person
  • #18
Shot records are often required of students at college otherwise they can’t attend. I’ve heard of meningitis cases popping when record checking was lax. This is a highly contagious disease among many that vaccines protect against.

Colleges do try to protect student health to a point for known illnesses that we have vaccines for. Unfortunately, we don’t have a vaccine for stupid which afflicts some who attend and are newly free from parental control or even parental observation given some of our privacy laws.

Salman Khan noted in his talk on the success of Khan Academy was that self motivated students enjoyed the videos the most because they could replay it as many times as needed. I also liked his approach of having homework be to watch the relevant video and then to do the problem sets under teacher supervision.

Lastly, there was a recent article about students preferring lecture mode for learning over active self learning because the latter was too much work on their part and they felt they weren’t learning as well. However, profs who taught that said is was a lot more work on their part and that students did in fact learn more. It gets down to students being a poor judge of what they’ve really learned.

i think many of these notions carry into the online world too where students must be more self motivated to succeed. Personally, I envy the resources available now that I didn’t have when I was young but that envy is tempered with the level of online distractions which are a bad idea for all students especially those who like to multitask.
 
  • Like
Likes JC2000, Klystron and sysprog
  • #19
Student motivation is really important - this was a useful article about that:

https://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2020/04/18/behavior-standards-online-lessons/

I think as educators we have to do as much as we can to motivate students. I am working with very simple technology - online modules which the students can work through followed by written exercises. When the students do the latter for me, they take pics with their cellphones and post through to me via Whatsapp. I put a lot of effort into marking that work (have stylus and Intuos tablet for that) and providing as many motivational comments as possible. Plus I have a battery of teacher stamps saying stuff like #yougotthis #awesome, #brilliant #flawless etc. Once marked I post back to the student.

I think the online thing can work generally but it takes a lot of effort and you have to try and ensure there is structure just like in class. Also you need to develop good computer skills so that your marking turn around time is as quick as possible - specially if there are a lot of students sending stuff through all the time.
 
  • Like
  • Informative
Likes JC2000, bhobba, vanhees71 and 5 others
  • #20
jedishrfu said:
Salman Khan noted in his talk on the success of Khan Academy was that self motivated students enjoyed the videos the most because they could replay it as many times as needed.
He also said that it works best when students watch the lecture on their own, repeating as they see fit, then reserve the classroom/interactive time for questions and working exercises.
 
  • Like
Likes JC2000, bhobba, sysprog and 1 other person
  • #21
Vanadium 50 said:
Does it matter? Maybe instead of a second wave there will be a new flu strain that hits in the fall instead. Is that any better?
It could deepen the mess. If students pay tuition on the assurance that live classes resume in the fall, they would feel betrayed if the live classes are cancelled. If colleges have to refund any tuition, that causes financial chaos. If students drop out for a year, and that triggers their student loans to become due, that's yet another crisis.

Uncertainty about the near future is terribly disruptive.
 
  • Like
Likes sysprog
  • #22
anorlunda said:
He also said that it works best when students watch the lecture on their own, repeating as they see fit, then reserve the classroom/interactive time for questions and working exercises.
It’s always good to reiterate this.
 
  • Like
Likes JC2000 and sysprog
  • #23
anorlunda said:
Uncertainty about the near future is terribly disruptive.
What is unfortunate is that uncertainty can certainly become certain.
 
  • Like
Likes jedishrfu
  • #24
I figured I should share this- Jearl forwarded it from his editor:

Cheating through Chegg, busted.png


Many of us know that Chegg is a hugely problematic, so if you are in a position to do so, I recommend trying the above.
 
  • Like
  • Love
  • Wow
Likes jtbell, member 587159, vanhees71 and 3 others
  • #25
Do you have the problem in question? That could be interesting.
 
  • #26
ZapperZ said:
My "A" students have dropped onto "B", , but strangely enough, my "D" and "C" students have moved up to "C" and "B". Draw your own conclusions.
Interesting... our elder daughter is a college student that falls into the A to B camp, at least for math. Yes, motivation is low, especially when there is a pandemic going on and she has been pretty sick. But also certain subjects and class formats just don't transfer well to an online format for some students. For example, online math just isn't working for her at all. Our younger daughter is in a high school that also went online, and she had the same experience with math. They both did substantially better face-to-face than online. I suspect physics would be similar for them. Other classes, like chemistry lecture, languages, etc., have been fine online. Labs are another story...

Cheating is an obvious potential problem that you are implying. For our college student, tests for some classes were changed to be open book, just so the curve doesn't penalize the honest kids. Other classes required the students to be on video the entire time while taking a written test that is then scanned in and uploaded to be graded. But I suspect cheating will always be there.

We are actually considering a gap year for our elder daughter next year, since it seems plausible it will be online in the fall. As a chemistry major, losing the labs really is a big deal (she is supposed to take 4 credits of lab each semester next year) and overall the online experience just isn't as valuable as in-person instruction. She learns less, it is more stressful, much less enjoyable, and eliminates the extra-curriculars and semi-independent living that define the college experience.

jason
 
  • Like
Likes Klystron, symbolipoint and berkeman
  • #27
Vanadium 50 said:
Do you have the problem in question? That could be interesting.
I think it starts "If you are in a spaceship traveling at the speed of light, and you shine your laser pointer..."
 
  • #28
Post #24, very very interesting
 
  • #29
symbolipoint said:
Post #24, very very interesting
Cough, cough. We do have a quote feature... :wink:
Andy Resnick said:
I figured I should share this- Jearl forwarded it from his editor:

View attachment 261887

Many of us know that Chegg is a hugely problematic, so if you are in a position to do so, I recommend trying the above.
 
  • Like
Likes JC2000
  • #30
This represents a BIG part of the problem:

jasonRF said:
We are actually considering a gap year for our elder daughter next year, since it seems plausible it will be online in the fall. As a chemistry major, losing the labs really is a big deal (she is supposed to take 4 credits of lab each semester next year) and overall the online experience just isn't as valuable as in-person instruction. She learns less, it is more stressful,
 
  • #31
jasonRF said:
our elder daughter is a college student that falls into the A to B camp, at least for math. Yes, motivation is low, especially when there is a pandemic going on and she has been pretty sick. But also certain subjects and class formats just don't transfer well to an online format for some students. For example, online math just isn't working for her at all.
Very sorry that she has been having to deal with health issues now -- that is likely made much more difficult with the current emphasis on devoting medical resources to the pandemic. Hopefully video doctor consultations have been available to you all.

On the math front, I wonder if it might help to try out a student version of Mathematica or some other comparable visual math processing software package. It seems like it might offer a way to help visualize some of the math that she is learning, and provide some visceral feedback about what the math means and how it is used.

For example, if she is working on differential equations, she could use Mathematica to plot the motion of objects that are subject to different constraints and the associated DEs and boundary conditions. I know that for EE type subjects, being able to see poles and zeroes in complex 3-D plots is very illuminating in studying stability and other filter-related issues, for example.

Anyway, just some thoughts. Stay as safe and healthy as you can. :smile:

1588380020515.png
 
Last edited:
  • #32
Vanadium 50 said:
Do you have the problem in question? That could be interesting.

I don't, sorry. I could come up with my own, tho.
 
  • #33
Have at it!
 
  • #34
berkeman said:
On the math front, I wonder if it might help to try out a student version of Mathematica or some other comparable visual math processing software package. It seems like it might offer a way to help visualize some of the math that she is learning, and provide some visceral feedback about what the math means and how it is used.
What seemed to help the most was getting help from my wife and I who are both engineers (my wife earned a BS in math before a PhD in EE; I did EE all the way through). Basically, one of us would brush up on what she was learning and think about how to present it and come up with a couple of examples, then would sit down with her and a piece of paper and give her a mini lecture on the specific topic she was having trouble with. But sometimes it was as simple as looking at a theorem or example in her book and explaining it to her in English.

Her course was a flipped classroom format that had very short introduction lectures that were designed just to setup the textbook reading assignments, and then class was a small section of about 20 students that was just for working problems in groups and asking the professor questions. Even when the course was in-person she was doing worse with that approach than she had in a prior math course that was the traditional lecture style.

But here is the real issue: when they went online, the technology they used did not provide a way to see what another person (even the professor) was writing, so trying to do group work or even asking the professor questions really didn't help her understand anything. To be fair, it truly is challenging to answer a student's question about the nuances of series convergence proofs using just words and no ability to write anything for the student to see. The school just didn't have the technology ready in time to make it effective, and wasn't nimble enough to change the course format to work around their particular technology limitations.

Since they didn't have much time to do the switch to online I don't really blame them, and in the grand scheme of things this is a minor issue and will probably be forgotten in short order. She learned what she needed to learn for her future, but really would have been in trouble if she didn't have parents who were able to help and working from home so were always available. In hindsight we should have found some regular lectures online for her to watch - her chemistry class was a traditional lecture-style course and it worked great online (the experimental chem course is another story).

jason
 
  • Like
Likes vanhees71
  • #35
Is there any difference or difficulties that arises with the teaching of pure mathematics during this event? I think this is the least affected area.
 

Similar threads

Replies
97
Views
12K
  • STEM Educators and Teaching
Replies
7
Views
2K
  • STEM Educators and Teaching
Replies
9
Views
1K
Replies
26
Views
3K
  • STEM Educators and Teaching
Replies
2
Views
2K
  • STEM Educators and Teaching
Replies
9
Views
592
  • STEM Educators and Teaching
Replies
19
Views
2K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
5
Views
958
  • STEM Educators and Teaching
Replies
3
Views
2K
  • STEM Educators and Teaching
3
Replies
101
Views
7K
Back
Top