Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A failing dependency on digital learning platforms

Can’t live with them, can’t live without them
Image courtesy of Unsplash.

Over the last year, students at the University of Massachusetts have dealt with more than enough digital learning platforms. While the University promised that it would leave behind Moodle in favor of Canvas, UMass is now flooded with an overabundance of platforms. Moodle is still being used alongside Canvas, but professors are still using Blackboard, Google Cloud and blogs and social learning platforms like Perusall. In this transitionary period, some professors are abandoning digital learning altogether.

While I would like to enjoy these classes that don’t depend on multiple learning platforms, navigating classes without a learning platform adds an extra layer of anxiety in day-to-day learning. Juggling multiple learning platforms may clog up my bookmarks bar, but they allow me to keep track of all my homework, assignments and often hold important materials like textbooks or relevant articles. One of these platforms most important functions is its ability to keep track of grades, especially as education has become more centered on the grades students receive rather than the knowledge they retain. So, when professors decide to forgo technology entirely, not only is it hard to keep track of assignments, but it makes it nearly impossible to find grades.

As a college student, grades determine whether I stay in college, but this anxiety extends to other students as well. High schoolers are similarly reliant on digital learning platforms and the grades they record to secure a future for themselves; digital learning platforms have become crucial to schooling, both in higher education and in K-12. Even though it’s annoying to keep track of multiple platforms, it has become vital in turning in assignments, holding important materials and monitoring grades. Slowly, digital learning platforms are becoming an integral part of schooling, but should they be?

Digital learning platforms circulate claims that learning platforms result in fewer expenses, allow for more flexibility, get children acclimated to our increasingly technological world and provide different opportunities for students to participate. It also claims to be more accessible. While these platforms deliver on most of these promises, they fail to engage students and do not offer a wholly accessible educational experience.

Though there is an obvious lack of valuable social interaction that comes with online learning, studies show that there is an increase in motivation to learn or even just use the learning platform itself. However, it is also found that grades usually end up being worse when a student has to be fully reliant on these platforms, in comparison to a student with a “brick and mortar education.” Even when hybrid learning helps close this gap, digital learning platforms can be a disadvantage for those who struggle academically. Recent findings illustrate that students that have an easier time learning are successful in using digital learning platforms, while students with differing learning styles or disabilities fall behind.

Digital learning platforms often aren’t very accessible to begin with. They help economically — in terms of lowering costs for communities — but that’s assuming that these individuals have the money to afford technology and internet access. The engineering of these websites is faulty. For instance, a platform like Moodle is designed to include aspects of accessibility from its own modules, such as compatibility with assistive technology. However, the modules end up being neglected and teachers — for a lack of training and knowledge of accessibility — can set up their courses impeding or abandoning this technology. In other cases, platforms like Blackboard dodged laws like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for eleven years before finally acting. Experts in accessibility continue to emphasize a need for these digital platforms to be made with accessibility in mind from the beginning. While this technology may have inclusive origins or intentions, digital learning platforms have failed to incorporate it properly into their systems.

In the end, digital learning platforms end up being a double-edged sword. Without them, students can be woefully unprepared for classes and have trouble keeping up with their grades. On the other hand, these platforms can be exclusionary and prevent students from reaching their full potential. If learning platforms are going to continue being an integral part of our future, they need to be made more accessible to a variety of learning styles and people. While current in-person classrooms can’t fully neglect technology, brick-and-mortar education continues to provide valuable skills and knowledge that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Hailey Furilla can be reached at [email protected].

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