Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Online Learning Punishes Minority Students, but Video Chats Can Help

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Online Learning Punishes Minority Students, but Video Chats Can Help

Article excerpt

Online learning punishes minority students, but video chats can help


This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.


Authors: Allan MacKinnon, Associate Professor of Education, Simon Fraser University and Emma MacFarlane, M.A. Candidate, Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University

Online learning is expanding in Canada at a rate of about 8.75 per cent every year. This shift to online environments has redefined the format of education. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), for example, have become wildly popular, with more than 700 universities offering 6,850 courses to 58 million students in 2016.

Universities promote online education as a flexible option for students, but with this flexibility comes complexity.

In our respective roles -- as an education professor who writes online courses, and as a graduate student and online course instructor (also known as a "tutor marker") -- we can run entire courses without meeting our students face-to-face. We do not know what they look like, what their voices sound like or how they interact in the classroom.

We have witnessed the struggle that English language minority students often face to fulfil requirements. And the negative impact of the online format on their engagement and success. We also believe online courses can work to support these students -- when instructors provide safe spaces for ungraded dialogue.

Language, identity and self-expression

English language minority students, also known as English language learners, face unique challenges in online courses. The online course features pre-written content that students read and respond to. But not everybody understands or expresses knowledge in the same way.

Language minority students are disadvantaged by having to adhere to dominant Western structures of writing in online discussion forums, their only opportunity to interact with peers in the course. Online discussion forums are often graded to the same academic standards as formal essays. Minority students may struggle to communicate using only the academic English that is required. They are devalued by their differences in discourse.

Often, English language minority students are also being socialized into North American higher education, and the general Western setting. From a socio-cultural perspective, language use is tied closely to race, ethnicity, social class and identity. This indicates a relationship between their ability to express themselves authentically in an online course, and the language they are expected to use.

Minority students' methods of engagement with course content and their peers may differ intuitively from those of students who are already familiar with the style and content of writing required in this setting. …

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