Traditional to Technical: More Classes incorporate Online Learning

by Luke Lee ‘20

Recently, I have noticed an interesting trend among courses at St. Mark’s: teachers are offering more paper materials and course content online. Sure, there are times where I solve questions on paper, but those occasions are very few. In the past, I would only use my computer while writing my English or History paper. For subjects like math, science, and language, I had to do almost all of my work on paper. But now, I need my computer for all of my classes. Instead of giving out worksheets or problems on the textbook, my math teacher posts a link on Canvas that directs me to the homework. For chemistry, students conduct labs online instead of actual labs using the Atomsmith Classroom, a computer simulation program. And instead of writing down our responses on the lab sheet, we submit our responses on a website called GoFormative. Sometimes, I question if carrying a backpack to school is necessary; it seems these days all I need is my computer.

There are definitely advantages to having more materials online. For one, students don’t have to carry giant textbooks to school everyday. Online materials are not only beneficial to the students, but also to Mother Earth. By working online, both students and faculty use paper much less. This reflects St. Mark’s sustainability statement, which ensures that the school “actively fosters environmental stewardship.” Why bother printing worksheets and handing it to students? Teachers can tell their students to check on Canvas.

Online tools are usually easy to use, but that is not always the case. Often, these programs don’t work. Take, for example, my Advanced Statistics and Chemistry class. During our statistics class, Mr. Lester asked us to install R Studio, an open source data analysis software. It took almost the entire 45 minute block for us to install the software because some of us weren’t able to download it. Yet, the features of the software are also available on our calculator, and the software has only been used for two classes. During our chemistry class, we had to download the Atomsmith Classroom for computer simulations of gas molecules. However, two students weren’t able to install the program on their own, so they wasted a lot of class time trying to make it work. The next day, Dr. Smith-Nichols instructed us to record our responses on GoFormative. But unfortunately, most students weren’t able to do their work in class because the website was down. Few students had their pages open from last night, so they were able to submit the response.

A few weeks into the beginning of the year, I was curious if students’ opinion of online resources have changed so I sent out a survey to my statistics class to see what their thoughts were on the online tools. According to the survey, 80% of the class were fine with the online materials, while 20% of them preferred offline materials. And when my classmates were asked how comfortable they were with R Studio and online homework on a scale of 1 to 5, most students gave 3’s or 4’s, which shows that they are pretty comfortable with the online materials. Although online resources are generally accepted by students, there are still rooms for improvements.