With technology becoming an essential tool for learning, especially in light of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, concerns about the impact of online learning on students is increasing.
“In the past two years, we learned how to look at technology as our friend and not our enemy,” said Layal Azizi, a social and emotional counsellor at Qatar Academy Al Wakra, a school under Qatar Foundation (QF)’s Pre-University Education.
“We knew students would be distracted by watching online videos or by playing online games, and for this reason, it was essential to use the same tool to grab their attention, and to avoid them disliking online learning or breaking their trust by enforcing disciplinary measures,” she said. “Our school developed many ways to keep students interactive through online learning games, and giving them tasks and activities, that we go through as a class, to give each student the chance to express what they did in the process.”
“This actually helps in keeping them engaged and involved in their own learning,” Azizi added.
Jody R Roberson, a psychologist from The Learning Centre – a specialised centre for supporting students with mild to moderate learning needs across QF schools, emphasised that holding attention can be difficult for many students in an online environment, which is why teachers must implement and use engaging strategies that are developmentally appropriate to each level.
“In order to keep students engaged, lessons should have a degree of stimulation, and should build up in a way that can create anticipation for the outcome or the end, as it is one of the main components for developing vigilance or focus,” he said. “To create anticipation, teachers need to use strategies like teasers, reminders and references to the coming point to assist students develop it.”
“Giving students something to look forward to or to focus on is key to holding attention, just like the ‘big reveal’ after a commercial break on TV so that we will watch all of the boring commercials to see what happens next in the TV programme,” Roberson said.
Other concerns suggest that students’ creativity fell due to online learning and the excessive use of technology.
“Excessive technology can affect creativity when the expectation is that only one correct rote response is required, and the grade is the only outcome for the lesson,” he added. “Creativity or the development of ideas comes from discussions that are a part of the learning environment.”
Azizi said that the anxiety spurred by the pandemic among students left them sceptical about core matters that they have always taken for granted.
This is why social and emotional well-being needs to be given priority in schools in a post-pandemic world.
“School counsellors everywhere, including myself, receive an overwhelming number of calls for assistance from parents and students as the pandemic put students – for the first time – in a situation where they became anxious of getting sick, or of one of their parents falling ill, or for not being able to keep up with online learning,” she said.
“Academically, students will always catch up, and education methods and standards will keep changing and evolving accordingly,” Azizi pointed out. “However, if a student can’t cope with their feelings or suffers from isolation, this can lead to serious psychological issues.”