Distance learning: how local students and teachers are affected by the new system

Jaeeun Park, Staff Writer

   As the world’s medical workers and researchers struggle to control the COVID-19 pandemic, ordinary civilians feel the strain of this disaster in their everyday lives. A new system for education during social distancing called “distance learning” has brought with it both benefits and drawbacks.

   Distance learning is the continuance of education for students even if they cannot physically be present at a school. This is unexplored territory that school systems all over the world have taken on in order to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Though the system seems avant-garde, medical and educational professionals alike have agreed it is necessary to preserve education through this crisis.

   The William S. Hart School District has closed its schools for the spring semester with students taking their classes online through platforms like Google Classroom and Zoom. A five-day weekly schedule was released to its students with alternating days of English, history and electives on Mondays and Wednesdays with science, math and physical education on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Teachers are available during their respective blocks to interact with their pupils and assign work.

   However, many issues have arisen, both expected and otherwise, for students and teachers alike. Wizened, strictly old-school teachers now must quickly learn how to use the vast functions of computers in order to teach their students the curriculum while even the most tech-savviest of teachers must manage hundreds of thousands of files to deduce who did their homework and check if the work was filled out correctly. Of course, instructors are also unable to talk with their pupils as usual with less added rhetoric and fun. 

   Face-to-face conversations and constant questions help most students learn, and now there are no physical cues for teachers to know how a student feels about a topic, or how well they are dealing with academic pressure. According to Mrs. Rojas, the AP Human Geography teacher at West Ranch, the greatest struggle of distance learning is being unable to see if her “students are struggling, not seeing their smiles and not hearing their laughs”.

   Students from less financially able households must keep up with assignments while experiencing the economic impact of the pandemic and possibly sharing the computer or entertaining other siblings. Some don’t have access to Wi-Fi, or a computer to use. Grades become harder to maintain with varying personal situations at home. So many parents have lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus and struggle to pay for rent, utility bills and food.

   Students that had team sports as their main motivation to go to school are now deprived of their passion. The prohibition of physical group activities has kept high-school juniors and seniors from competing in high-level competitions for scholarships and college offers. Their last seasons were taken from them and opportunities have been lost.

   The social life of students has also taken a hit. High school is full of interactions, and many teenagers find their main source of entertainment from talking with their classmates and friends at school. Seniors are unable to partake in past senior traditions and are missing out on any activities that may have been planned ahead of time. Close contact is no longer possible and teens are eagerly awaiting the day when they can see their friends again in person. 

   All troubles aside, distance learning doesn’t come entirely without benefits. Students can sleep in, attend class in their pajamas and eat when they feel like it. Class time is notably shorter and work is completed at students’ own pace. 

   Freshman Caroline Dolce says, “My relationship with my siblings has grown much stronger. In many ways, this is the closest we have ever been”. She uses FaceTime and social media with her friends to communicate, and “[looks] forward to the day where [they] can hang out together, experience post-corona times and celebrate that”.

   Teachers like Mrs. Rojas are “loving spending more time with [her] family and making memories with them, slowing down the fast pace of life.” 

   Sage words, indeed, in a time where people’s lives are too busy to sit back and take a moment to breathe. Those who are quarantined at home should take care of themselves, enjoy the little things in life and support the men and women working to end this pandemic.