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Why All Online Schools Should Include a "Virtual Lunch" Period

All online schools should have a "virtual lunch" period. It can help shape the future.

Online schooling seems to be a rising trend nowadays. In fact, according to statistics from Ambient Insight, roughly four million K to 12 students attended online classes. And, according to projections from The Washington Post, it's said that 50 percent of all high school courses will be taken online this year!

Yes, online schools have offered us—parents and students alike—an alternative to public school that is more affordable and has the capacity to be more individualized than ever.

However, should we continue with this disruptive innovation (i.e. an innovation that disrupts a previous, and more complicated, sector to make it less complicated and more affordable), I believe it's important to note a few things that will not only change along with this rising trend, but things that are crucial to the development of its highest priority: The students.

Online schools offer a gamut of resources for their students, parents, and teachers to ensure that everyone is learning at their own capacity and that the contents of the material are individualized to provide them all with the best resources and experiences possible. But one thing has been forgotten in the midst of this quickly rising trend: Lunch.

Now, most people don't think of lunch as a necessary developmental course in school. However, having been doing online schooling for a great portion of my life, I believe that there are a few supplemental benefits to providing students with a "virtual lunch," that can greatly impact the overall success and motivation of these students.

It's actually "brain food."

Again, most people don't think of lunchtime as a necessary part of the curriculum, especially in terms of online schooling. Lunchtime was simply so that students could acquire nourishment in-between classes to fuel their brain for learning. Hence the coined term "brain food."

However, there is much more to lunchtime that we don't think of: student interaction. With Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc., people are communicating more electronically than face-to-face! But, people need these social interactions, even if to simply break apart the grueling school day.

Why? There are a few reasons:

  1. Social interactions allow students to find help and tutoring elsewhere. Therefore, if they meet a fellow peer who is an A+ student in Science while their personal grade is hovering extremely close to a D, they may be much more willing to ask the student for assistance instead of their teacher, starting a student-mentor relationship.
  2. Multiple studies, according to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, have shown that social interactions are consistently linked to biomarkers of mental and physical health, though they are still unsure and lack the understanding of why in the equation.
  3. Social interactions allow students to develop social skills so that they can learn to be a part of society outside of themselves. For example, if a student goes through his entire schooling experience only capable of talking on an educational level, he will not learn how to relate with his peers on a more personal level. However, if he is able to speak with his peers in a more social and relaxed setting, then he is capable of making friends and learning to relate to people, which is a necessary skill.
  4. School, let's face it, gets boring and tiring. Students need a short break to interact in a less demanding setting, away from the pressures of possibly blurting out the wrong answer or answering question after question. Having a virtual lunch could break their tension and allow them to feel more confident now that they know their peers on a different and more personal level. This also alleviates some of the pressure in obtaining and blurting out the wrong answer.

The bottom line: Social interactions can lead students to feel more confident and involved with the other students, not just with the school. Which, in turn, makes them feel less judged, a part of the community (even if just the school community), and can alleviate the stress of the school day.

Although there are avenues such as social media to take, it's not nearly as easy to make friends in a sea of millions of people. Having a virtual lunch period can allow these students the ability to "meet" and relate with their peers outside of the educational setting and even allow them to develop lasting friendships.

The Pros and Cons to the Rising Use of Technology

I believe that PublicSource's article "Technology Is Changing the Millennial Brain" describes this perfectly. The article combines the neurological and scientific studies behind technology use, as well as the pros and cons of the present and future in terms of technology use.

Considering Millennials are the first generation to truly become immersed and engaged with technology on such a personal level, scientists are just now able to truly study the brain, and all the extreme changes to it, during the prolonged use of technology.

Here are just some of the many fundamental changes that are occurring in younger generations.

Infographic via PublicSource's Article "Technology Is Changing the Millennial Brain"

Aside from the social aspects, there are some more scientific changes taking place as well. According to research from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, technology affects the ways in which the prefrontal cortex, cerebellum, and parietal lobe develop and mature.

The prefrontal cortex controls personality, the ability to acquire and retain knowledge (cognition), and social behavior. The cerebellum coordinates all motor function, including that which helps us use language. The parietal lobe assists with interpreting language and words.

According to studies, excessive technology usage actually degenerates (or atrophies) the frontal lobe, which affects break down necessary ties and pathways between different parts of the brain. Studies also show a "shrinking" in the overall size of the brain. However, this has been happening consistently for the last 10,000 years and the cause for this (as well as the pros/cons) remain unknown for now.

The important fact here is that technology is rapidly revolutionizing the way that we, as a society, communicate and interpret each other—including the brain functions involved in doing so. But, is this a good or a bad thing? Well, that's debatable.

Some professors and educators state that students who take notes utilizing technology instead of hand-copying actually retain less information than the latter. However, they also state that utilizing technology for slow note-takers can offer them a significant advantage. Case in point, I believe it depends on the student.

Some researchers also state that this rapid increase in technology use may not necessarily be a terrible thing. Even though millennials and other, younger generations are utilizing more tech accommodations than their predecessors, they argue that they are still able to communicate well with one another. Maybe even better than their predecessors considering there is ample time to respond and think through responses before sending them.

Whether the technology is harming or helping our current economy is truly anyone's guess.

Back on Track

Back to virtual lunches and why they should be necessary... it is a revolutionary time in our society. Communication is only one of the many things that we, as a whole, need to focus on to maintain our evolutionary good-standing. Is the fact that our brain's are rapidly shrinking (much faster than our bodies) cause for alarm? Maybe, maybe not.

I, for one, don't believe that the brain shrinking should be cause for alarm. In my theorization (which is purely preliminary), I believe that this is simply the brain making new pathways and changing based on what we, as humans, are doing to evolve. The brain is ever-changing, and I don't believe that this decrease in size should be as alarming as it sounds.

However, considering the atrophy aspect of the frontal lobe, I do believe that it is imperative that we ensure that communication and teaching our children to communicate effectively is an integral part of our evolution as human beings.

I don't think any of us want a society of robot-like humans walking around with no concept of the humans surrounding them. Therefore, whether we are communicating via email, chat, messenger, face-to-face, in a group, or one-on-one, we need to focus on teaching our students how to do that effectively. What better way than a lunch period?

My Vision of the "Virtual Lunch"

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

When I sit here and attempt to visualize a "virtual lunch period," I don't just see what it should be regarding the present. I also envision what it may be in the future. Therefore (and more for fun than anything fundamentally game-changing), I've decided to provide you all with a brief breakdown of what I see.

Present Day

In terms of present day virtual lunches, a chatroom would be an amazing place to start. Scheduling a period for these students to not only eat to fuel their brain, but also to interact with other students. These chatrooms could incorporate "tables" that the students could join, video chats, messenger platforms, and the ability to study with one another utilizing a specified "table" as a study area.

The layout would be simple, visualizing actual tables and maybe even avatars. This could most definitely keep students engaged and excited about the school day.

Future

When I think of the future that could potentially become a reality in terms of virtual lunch, I believe the possibilities are nearly endless. These virtual lunches may go from the mundane chatroom to a full-blown VR experience in which they can actually, virtually see and communicate with each other! Now, wouldn't that be something?

I'm not going to sit here and say that these are revolutionary ideas. I'm not even going to say that this idea is plausible at the current moment.

However, for students and parents everywhere, I think they would agree that this would provide students with much more than a needed break from the school day, but could also potentially shape a better future for the already en route concept of total virtual schooling.

I, for one, want my kids to learn more than simply how to communicate on an educational basis. I want them to enjoy the school experience, regardless of if it's entirely virtual or not. I've succumbed to the fact that, by the time my kids are of age, they will most likely be in an all-online school because that will be the new norm.

So let's make it a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

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