Is my teenager really learning online?

Toyota Believe logoWhen we send our kids off to school we usually have a fair idea of what they get up to. They’ll sing the national anthem in assembly and then run laps around a field in PE before immediately transitioning into a classroom that reeks with the unmistakable cocktail of Lynx Africa and B.O. Now that everyone is doing online learning, the whole context of how kids spend their school days has changed. You know where they are, because ‘school’ now means teenagers spend all day at home staring at a screen. But what are they actually doing online? Maybe you’ve been wondering – are they just watching videos and playing games the whole time? Are they actually learning anything?

These are good questions! We asked a few teachers we work with, and talked to some young people we know, to find out what websites and apps are actually helpful for students while they are doing online learning. We’ll also let you in on any pitfalls related to each site, so you can remain one step ahead of your young people. Well, we can all but try!

1. The online classroom

This is where the majority of the teaching is taking place these days and fear not, there’s nothing to worry about here – it’s just straight up pure school work. Every school has their own online classroom website like Google classroom or OneNote. The school is in charge of this website and uses it to teach and assign work. Teachers will teach online classes and sometimes send students off to use other online learning tools, like Education Perfect to complete assignments. Most schools have been using this since before the lockdown so chances are you’re already familiar with the idea of it.

What teens probably won’t tell their parents:

Even though online classrooms won’t raise any concerns with parents, students will be using social media the whole time during class. But it isn’t just to scroll through the feed and watch videos, it’s because it is the most efficient way to communicate. Young people are amazing problem solvers when it comes to connecting with their friends. If the website doesn’t support a chat function, they will always find a way. Just like kids at school pass notes and whisper to each other during class – students are messaging during online lessons too. There is actually a very good chance that when you notice your teenager Snapchatting during their school time, they are actually doing school related stuff. Sort of.

2. Kahoot

This is the heavyweight champion of game-based learning. It’s basically online quizzes that people do in real time. It’s been super popular with teachers, way before we had to wear masks to buy bananas. Teachers might create quizzes or ‘Kahoots’ that reinforce class learning, or you might just catch your kid exploring the website themselves and doing some rogue learning in all the pre-made Kahoots. There’s a whole section on the website for learning numeracy and literacy. If taking school tests is your idea of playing games then, yeah, you could call this online gaming.

What teens probably won’t tell their parents:

You get to choose your name when you enter a quiz. Everyone can see the name you choose; the teacher, your friends, the boy you like, the girl you don’t like. Everyone. What a lot of students do is choose names that are either funny or rude or directed at someone. There is censorship on the website that blocks names that are obviously explicit. However, young people access all these new problem solving skills you’ve never seen before when it comes to opportunities to connect with friends and be hilarious. Names like Hugh Jass or Dixie Normous sometimes slip past the teacher until they read them out loud.

3. Online Flashcards

Websites like Quizlet and CRAM.COM are sites that makes flashcards for you. It’s like the digital version of your mum helping you prepare for exams by reading through all the notes you made in class and making up questions like  “What’s compound interest?” or “Who is Jake and why did you write his name in a love heart?”. Online flashcards are a great online learning tool because there are already tonnes of them out there, covering every topic – from algebra to what are the names of the best rollercoasters from around the world.

What teens probably won’t tell their parents:

The online flashcard tool is used to test yourself about what you already know, or introduce you to new concepts and definitions. It’s a great tool for self-directed learning, but if you need to report your score to someone you can just cheat. Like really easily. All the answers are just one click away in a different browser. This doesn’t mean you should be suspicious of all your child’s online learning achievements, but, if they happen to get 100% on a post-grad level quantum physics Quizlet right before asking you if they can play on the Playstation, I would be slightly skeptical.

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4. YouTube

YouTube is awesome for tutorials and explainer videos and getting sidetracked and watching some guys build a three story hut in the woods using only a stick.

Teachers send students links to YouTube videos all the time and so if your child is watching YouTube, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are slacking off. It is actually the world’s second largest search engine. If your child’s preferred learning style is visual or aural, then YouTube is going to be an awesome resource. Have you ever imagined how much you would have learned if you had access to YouTube as a child? Literally anything you ever wanted to know about is explained in a simple video clip. If you were motivated, you could attend the university of YouTube (not a real tertiary institute) and learn how to read music, how to programme a robot to play an instrument and then how to conduct an orchestra of robots.

What teens probably won’t tell their parents:

Watching YouTube videos is like popping bubble wrap; it is impossibly hard to stop. YouTube has a tailored algorithm that recommends the next video.The default setting on YouTube is to auto-play another video as soon as your one ends. The developing brain is not that awesome at using self control when all the reward pathways are being flooded with good feeling chemicals as you watch funny or attractive videos. It is also totally personalised based on the metadata that it collects from its users. This means it serves you what video to watch next based on your age, gender, search history, liked videos, friends, comments and a plethora of other information the YouTube minions have gathered. So the videos just keep getting more engaging and before you know it, you’re not watching the history of Rome anymore, you’re watching an episode of American Gladiators from the 1990s.

It might take some getting used to – ‘Have you done your homework?’ has now become ‘Have you shared the link for your Kahoot on OneDrive and forwarded it to your EdPerfect group chat?’. While it may be a tricky new world for parents to navigate, remember that you’ve got a live-in expert guide to help you out. Young people usually relish the opportunity to be an expert, so invite them to show you how it all works. You listen with your ‘parent ears’ and identify all the potential risks, and before they know it, they would have disclosed all the stuff that parents like to know anyway. It is actually so impressive that our young people can adapt so quickly to technology. We might end up feeling left behind, but even though the technology is changing, young people are still the same and they still need our support.

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