An Educational Stepping Stone

Online schooling may have the potential to replace traditional classrooms


Photo: Chris Montgomery/

An illustration of a Zoom classroom layout from the perspective of a student.

The U.S. schooling system has been forced to adapt, due to the COVID-19 outbreak in order to accommodate social distancing, temporarily giving millions of students an altered schooling experience. 

As schools across the country become accustomed to online classrooms, online schooling may have the potential to evolve into a replacement for the conventional schooling structure.

When comparing online schooling to a physical classroom, there are many benefits and setbacks to consider, one of the key points observed being the engagement, specifically the lack of it, that you can achieve in a virtual classroom.

Anne Bingham, UPrep’s Library Director, who works in a component of teaching and learning that exists outside of a classroom, commented on the huge difference in an online setting. 

“In a real classroom, you can see and sense how students are paying attention, and if they are engaged, puzzled, curious, having trouble keeping up, etc. Online, it takes more time to inquire and get feedback about how students are doing, and adjust a lesson accordingly,” Bingham said.

Many students also feel that it is harder to be at school without being able to talk to their peers.

Eighth-grader August Goldberg thinks that the positives of online schooling within a pandemic outweigh the negatives, but it can still be very impractical.

“You get to see your friends in online classes but you can’t really talk with them at all… so for the purpose of work it’s fine, but outside a pandemic situation, I don’t think [online schooling] would work,” Goldberg said.

UPrep Director of Learning, Design and Technology Jeff Tillinghast made a similar statement about the social and recreational aspects of schooling.

“I think the biggest limitations that we have to be mindful of right now or just the limitations of people’s mental and emotional bandwidth,” Tillinghast said. “We try to figure out what’s the responsible, healthy, and appropriate way to balance our obligations at school and our obligations to our classes with the bigger picture of what our lives are right now.”

Another setback toward online schooling is the lack of wellness program activity and physical activity that is available at UPrep. While online, we have to keep in mind we don’t just lose human interaction, we lose various school functions, such as the library that Anne Bingham works in, or Jeff Tillinghast’s robotics club.

“Our wellness programs, our PE departments, Miss Klein, and everybody has done such an incredible job of trying to recreate that recreational element. But beyond the social program or the recreational program, there’s the energy and the vibe of just having everybody in a room, we’re social beings,” Tillinghast said.

Online schooling can still be credited with its numerous benefits, such as the utilization of remote learning, especially in the situation we are in now. Anne Bingham put an emphasis on the adaptability of online schooling, which allows students to stay educated at home.

“The flexibility of online learning is a huge positive. It can happen anywhere, in real time, or anytime. Students can be in charge of their own learning by exploring topics and experiments on their own,” Bingham said.

Jeff Tillinghast remarked that for the time being, online classes are generally used as secondary courses for public school districts in order to prevent an overpopulation of students in class, or as undergraduate classes that faculty members aren’t available for.

Despite this, many students would agree it’s very difficult to replace the experience of being in a real classroom, especially without human interaction. Anne Bingham makes this point clear that online schooling can be a great tool in a school’s inventory, but still has much room to improve.

“So far, learning in person can’t be beat. It’s so great to laugh, tell stories, and share in person. It’s the best way to build up trust, friendship, and support, which can really motivate a student or team,” Bingham said.

In the future, online schooling could aid many school programs, such as the Global Online Academy. At UPrep, upper school students can take online classes from other independent schools around the world with teachers and students from other schools. Using online schooling in this way can utilize its best attributes, but it still has a long way to go if it is to replace real schools.