Anything But Average
Many people have asked me in my time as an online educator, “What’s the average student like in your classes?” When I hear this question, I can’t help but shake my head in frustration. I find myself wondering why the person asking thinks that online students somehow differ from those in brick-and-mortar schools.
As a society, we seem to have this tendency to gravitate back to the word average because it is comfortable. It is how society is structured, and is, in fact, how we tend to view ourselves and the world around us.
For example, you hear newscasters getting opinions from the “average person on the street.” When you stop to think about it, can you actually say that all people on the street fall into one grouping of individuals that would make them average?
This example emphasizes the fact that no one really understands what average truly means. Perhaps Einstein explained it best when he said, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”
We are all individuals, and that is true of the students who take classes in the online environment and of the teachers instructing them. Online education is a natural match for an individualized emphasis in education.
I’ve never had one class where every student finished at the same time or approached the class in the same way. Each student has taken away something from a class that was a little different than the rest. They found concepts in the content of the online curriculum that were important to them, knowledge that they could apply in their own lives, individually.
It is important to remember that the brick-and-mortar classroom is not a good fit for all students; in fact, for students who choose the online learning environment, the face-to-face classroom simply doesn't meet their needs.
In my time spent in online education, I have had many students come to my classroom after having failed repeatedly in the traditional classroom environment. They were hardened, discouraged, and skeptical of their own abilities to succeed in school at all. However, I have witnessed these students blossom in the online classroom as they experienced successes. They were, as Einstein implied, simply a fish out of water in the brick-and-mortar classroom.
Author Susan Weinbrenner sums it up this way: "Equality means giving everyone equal opportunities to learn, not teaching everyone in exactly the same way."
With the tools of technology, we as online educators find ourselves uniquely equipped to put Weinbrenner’s words into action. We can provide the opportunities for students to learn and succeed without the stigma of average.
So, my answer to that question of, “What’s the average student like in your classes?” is this. My online students are distinct individuals from all ethnic groups, cultures, and backgrounds. My students have different gifts, abilities, learning styles, and goals, and, most of all, they are anything but average!
Phyllis Tuttle is a Health Teacher Facilitator for Lincoln Learning Solutions. She has more than 35 years of experience in education with a focus in Science and Health. Phyllis has 10 years of experience teaching online and writing science and health courses for online education.
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