The Psychology of Online Classes Explained

A Geology 103 class takes place over Zoom. Zoom and Google Meet are two platforms where virtual learning most popularly occurs (Photo illustration by Aura Ware).

Since the COVID-19 pandemic has started, virtual classes have been happening every day. Though this is an alternative that allows classes to be held under trying circumstances, it comes with its own set of challenges.

Dr. Andrea Francis, a psychology professor at Albion College, said she believes there is a balance between online learning and content that’s being taught in the classroom.

“If you do 100% virtual, and it’s not in the flex model, there are lots of ways you can do it. It depends on the content of the class, as to how it would be best to set it up,” said Francis. “So, for example, I’ve taught more neuroscience-y classes versus more discussion based classes and those would be totally different set ups.”

Because of graduate school, Francis has experience in identifying how classes should be run when they are online.

“At MSU, when I was a grad student, I taught a reflection summary class, and we actually compared discussions in moodle versus discussions on Facebook. It was a completely online class, and we compared how discussions should be run and what people said in these two different formats,” said Francis. “When people were on Facebook, people got off topic more whereas if you are running more of a neuroscience class, where it’s more fact based, then things like videos and stimulations and questions and check-ins are good.”

Francis argued that, despite some of the challenges, there are perks to taking an online course.

“One of the affordances of an online course is that you can make it asynchronous such that not everybody has to be on at the same time. Another one of the affordances of taking a class online is that you can post a discussion question and people can answer later and you can watch the video when you have time and you can answer questions when you have time,” said Francis.

There isn’t just rhyme to Francis’s views on online classes. There is reasoning for it as well, which relates to the psychology of in-person classes.

“There is something called TPAC, and it’s the intersection between technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge,” said Francis. “So, the pedagogy would be how you implement things, whether you do discussion based, whether you do lecture, whether you choose to do case studies, how you choose examples and that doesn’t matter if you are online or in person. You can do breakout rooms or you can do small groups.”

Francis continued to break down the implementation of TPAC.

“There is content knowledge. Teaching about differences in culture would be very different than if you were teaching about math,” said Francis. “Then, there is the technology piece, which is what platform you use. Do you use moodle? Do you use facebook? Do you use texting ? Do you use zoom? Do you use google meet? What are the technological components that you use?”

TPAC is not the only thing considered when analyzing how teachers should set up online classes. 

“Then, there is a sweet spot in the middle where you consider what kinds of things can I teach my students about the content that I could only do with the technology available to me,” said Francis. “You learn something different because of the online nature of the class.”

Specific to Albion, there are circumstances that are better for students at Albion College because of the close nit environment, such as in-person learning. However, Francis  pointed out that there are benefits to virtual classrooms that cannot be obtained in the in-person classroom.

“I think the positive would be that students do like to go back to the recording,” said Francis. “I’ve heard that a lot. Everybody zones out every once in a while especially when we are exhausted, so that gives them an opportunity to go back if they zoned out or their internet went out. There are so many things that could happen.”

About Aura Ware 49 Articles
Aura is a senior from Memphis, Tenn. She is a double major in Psychology and English. She is a passionate Features Editor, who isn't afraid to take on uncomfortable topics if it means cultivating meaningful conversation.

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