Virtual Studying: Are Students Actually Working?

This post is from our series on Virtual students and how school has become more and more online.  See our other posts from the Virtual Student series here.

I work with a lot of teens (and tweens) and often talk to them about study skills, work habits, procrastination and working ethically.  In my 12 stride-program I have a lesson on cheating and many issues that were not even around last year are popping up everyday.  Many of these new challenges all have to do with the idea of virtual studying.

The Internet and technology has changed the fundamental way in which students (kindergarten through College) study and learn.  In some ways, this is awesome, it saves time and paper.  Yet, I also worry.  Is virtual studying as helpful as the traditional kind? Are virtual flashcards just as good as my tried and true 3 by 5’s? Here are a few examples of how your kids learn:

Virtual Flashcards and Timelines

There are some nifty websites that make writing flashcards, well, non-writeable.  Plug in your terms, definitions and they spit out the cards and even let you flip them online.  They even have saved flashcard ‘stacks’ that your friends might have made…just use theirs!  You can also use websites to put together snazzy timelines with the dates from the civil war.

-It saves a ton of paper.
-It saves time, just copy and paste your content onto those cards.
-You can borrow other people’s flashcards and have the website test you (harder to cheat with yourself).

-I always felt like having the flashcards at the end was not as important as the process of making them.  Writing out the flashcards is the whole point of flashcards, that’s how you learn them.
-You can borrow other people’s stacks, but what if they switched a definition or messed up a date.  And how annoying to get their typos?

Google Docs

Now students can edit and share documents virtually.  This is a great way of doing projects together or checking each other’s work.

-Saves paper and hand cramps
-Easy to share with others on their time schedule
-Very easy to help and peer review.

-My biggest concern is cheating, there is no log of who edits what.  This is a very easy way to ‘accidently’ take each other’s ideas and work.
-Again, I also worry that typing is not as good as writing when it comes to comprehending and commiting a subject to memory.


-Wiki’s are a great way to make study guides together and do group projects.  It is the perfect medium for posting questions, messages and having forums online.

-Part of working with a group is the discussions, teamwork and working things out together.  If everything is typed, that aspect of learning is cut out.
-Virtual studying like this can be a major problem for auditory learners, who learn best by hearing and discussing.

iChat Study Sessions with Teens

Parents constantly ask me if I agree with their kids using AIM and iChat for study sessions.  I do think it is a good idea if, your kid benefits from that type of learning, it is not going on too late at night and actual work is getting done.

-Engages students and allows them to work together even outside of class to problem solve.
-Students can get questions answered easily from friends instead of getting confused and frustrated while studying.

-There might be a little of blind leading the blind here.  Do you know what that is? No, do you?  Ya, not such a good idea.
-Again, very easy to cheat.
-I worry ‘study sessions’ just turn into chat sessions and time sucks.

Video Demos

Websites like VideoJug, Teacher Tube and FORA.TV have all kinds of demonstrational videos, how-to’s and even animations of concepts from class.

-Great if you do not get your teacher’s teaching style.  Can be great for auditory and visual learners to watch a concept in a variety of ways.
-It can increase interest in learning.  I will admit, I did not think cell animation was very cool until I sawy this video:  Really got my interest in biology higher.

-I swear kid’s attention spans are getting shorter and shorter.  Cool animated videos might make this even more so.  I have often heard kids complain that they would rather learn about grammar from the new animated, dancing, 1 minute school house rock YouTube video than from their teacher.
-They are not always accurate.  Anyone can put up a video or explanation, who knows which videos you can trust?

Virtual Textbooks:

Now, the Kindle is offering a lot of textbooks.  I think this is really great. Also students are learning to leave their books in their lockers and access the textbooks online.


Better for the back

-Saves paper

-Can use interactive activities in the online versions

-Great for visual learners

-Saves money


-Harder to highlight and take notes

-I can’t think of anything else…

Some other virtual studying tools for you on Lifehacker!

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