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A Great Online Teacher Can Make a Difference

Any experienced educator would agree that it takes more than “book smarts” to be a good teacher. Teaching is not just about spitting back raw information, but is about giving the students the tools they need to succeed beyond the confines of the classroom.
Illustrative image of a boy searching for books in Jerusalem's Intercol school supply store (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Illustrative image of a boy searching for books in Jerusalem's Intercol school supply store (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Any experienced educator would agree that it takes more than “book smarts” to be a good teacher. Teaching is not just about spitting back raw information, but is about giving the students the tools they need to succeed beyond the confines of the classroom. The concept seems simple enough. With the online resources available today, if it were just about collecting facts, schools would no longer be needed. Education is clearly more than just the raw information.

While this concept has been proven countless times, many schools and learning institutions are still not grasping this fundamental principle. Schools are relying more and more on asynchronous online tools, rather than on the traditional educational models, which focus on the teacher/student relationships. The reasoning makes sense from a numbers standpoint. If a school can place its group of math students in front of a pre-recorded video, the cost savings is huge. A quick Google search for “online math courses” reveals a large collection of free materials that can be accessed by any student or interested party. Khan Academy is perhaps the most famous provider of asynchronous online lessons. With video courses available for virtually every math and science topic, it is clear why Khan, and other similar services can be such a tempting crutch for schools struggling to keep up with increasing educational demands.

Certainly, these types of self-paced platforms can be important tools for enrichment or for additional practice. The question though is, can a self-paced online course really replace a live and interactive learning experience? In an age with shrinking budgets and teacher shortages, these self-paced platforms have in fact provided schools and students with much needed solutions. What happens though to those valuable and irreplaceable student, teacher relationships that cannot possibly develop in a pre-recorded course? How valuable are those relationships for the students later on?

As an online teacher who teaches live/real time classes, these are not easy questions to answer. Platforms like Khan Academy have provided solutions to students who otherwise would not have been able to complete much needed academic courses. In an ideal world however, schools need to do better, and remember that not everything can be learned from a book (or video). When I graduated high school in 1996, I was convinced that I was ready to conquer life, and that I had gotten everything I needed. Of course, I quickly realized that this was not the case. As I began to advance my own education, I often recalled not just learned knowledge but the lessons, stories, and conversations that I had with so many teachers over the years. Now, more than 20 years later, I find myself on the other side of what is now a virtual table. Living here in Israel, I have been able to continue to teach students in North America and have successfully still been able to build those interpersonal relationships that I have always viewed as being an essential part of the educational experience.

A former student of mine who is now studying in an Israel gap year program recently visited for a free Shabbat weekend. We were talking about the differences between traditional classes and online classes, like the course he took with me. The student, who attended a well-known Jewish day school, commented that the school started to rely more and more on asynchronous online courses because it just seemed more convenient. He said to me, “with you, even though you were online, they still had to talk to you. You still told them when I didn’t do my homework. With the other online courses, the school didn’t really seem to care.” I was astonished at hearing these remarks. If I were a school principal, of course I would want to know if my students did not do their homework. What this student was describing, was a sad chain of events that I have personally seen at many other top North American schools.

Online courses and learning tools are and should continue to be a central part of the educational program. There is nothing wrong with using an asynchronous online course for enrichment or to help a student catch up/advance. Platforms like Khan Academy have provided educational options for students who would otherwise have no other means of reaching their goals.

When schools are deciding how to use the available online tools, they really need to do their research and analysis as to what will be most effective for the students. It is not just about cost. While it is sometimes difficult, schools must look beyond the budget item to what is in the best interest of the student. Live online courses are certainly an option that can often help a school save money while at the same time still provide that important student/teacher interaction. It is easy to choose the free option, but we as educators and parents owe are children more.

About the Author
Aryeh Eisenberg is the CEO and General Manager of Bonim B'Yachad, an online education technology provider for schools and individuals. Based in Israel, Bonim B'Yachad works with students all over the world.
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