Is there a hard line between virtual and physical work?

Oct. 28, 2021, 1:28 p.m. | By Sachin Parikh | 1 month, 1 week ago

School can be a lot easier if teachers make conscious decisions on how to assign work say students and teachers

Photo: There are pros and cons to choosing between assigning paper and virtual work

Last year, students and teachers didn’t have a choice on how to do work. For better or worse, absolutely everything was online. This forced us to learn new ways to use our computers. But now teachers have a choice between virtual and physical assignments. Both of these have their benefits and drawbacks, so teachers must consider the type and length of an assignment when choosing between assigning virtual and physical schoolwork.

There shouldn’t be a hard line on whether teachers should strictly assign work on paper or the computer. Whether teachers strictly assign work on paper on the computer, considering the advantages and disadvantages to both formats is essential. A 2016 article written by professors from Western Michigan University and the Medical University of South Carolina states that “Decisions to use online homework systems should not be made quickly and without thought. These decisions must be purposeful, carefully considering the type of course, student enrollments, motivation levels of students, and costs to students.”

Kevin Shindel, a research teacher at Blair, backs up this claim, saying teachers should make this decision based on the assignment’s characteristics. “There are benefits and tradeoffs to either, and I think it comes down to the nature and length of the assignment,” he says.

Regarding the “nature” of the assignment, Shindel almost always makes assignments that require collaboration with a partner or a group virtual. Google Docs was created with collaboration in mind. Its “suggesting” mode, commenting ability, and simultaneous editing make any Google platform an easy choice when it comes to teamwork.

Virtual work also eases the burden on students’ backs. Fewer papers means there are fewer things for you to carry around. And it is literally impossible to accidentally leave your virtual work at home. Shindel believes virtual work’s convenience is a huge benefit. “For digital, you don’t have to take as much stuff home. You always have access to it… the efficiency and access is really good,” he says.

Sophomore Tinu Vanapamula emphasizes how virtual work shortens the stack of papers students have to carry around. “Staying organized on the computer is personally much easier for me than keeping track of papers,” he says. Because of this, assignments that students need to refer back to or use often, like research projects or vocabulary lists, should be virtual.

Likewise, sophomore Robinson Juarez finds virtual homework easier to keep track of. “Classwork and homework should be online… because it’s easy to lose paper,” Jaurez says.

Despite its inconvenience, physical assignments definitely have advantages over virtual ones. There are infinite ways to get distracted while using a computer. Shindel says that the distraction a computer constantly offers is the main reason why he prefers paper assignments. “I’m just like everybody else, when a computer’s open, you can get sidetracked, you can get distracted. Sometimes I’d rather just sit down somewhere and focus," Shindel says. 

A study about how an online homework system affected a class of students found that “online homework students performed significantly better in solving problems. However, those students performed significantly worse on multiple-choice questions, when those questions were designed for deeper understanding.” This is why assignments that require lots of focus or complete understanding to complete, like annotations, peer reviews, and memorization should be paper.

Most importantly, teachers should consider student opinions. Though they are the ones eventually grading the assignment, a student might benefit from one assignment format more than the other, making their grade better than it would be. When deciding between virtual and physical schoolwork, taking the assignment’s gravity and nature into consideration is beneficial for all students and teachers.

Last updated: Nov. 1, 2021, 1:18 p.m.

Tags: homework virtual learning paper assignments

Sachin Parikh. Hello! I'm Sachin (he/him) and you can usually find me scrambling to meet a deadline for SCO. More »

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