With the spring semester in session and students working hard in classes, it is hard to imagine a time before online learning. After a successful virtual semester this school year, students have become masters at online communication and platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet. The use of these virtual learning resources has brought unique challenges and opportunities for students to further their learning even with not-so-ideal circumstances.
“I think as the school year went on, I got a lot more comfortable with using Zoom,” commented sophomore Veronika Pirog. “When I started using it for school, I was really worried and unsure on how to work it, but after using it for months, it’s a much more familiar experience.”
Ms. Barr, a history teacher at West Ranch, felt similarly, saying, “I miss the hands-on stuff we get to do in the classroom, but distance learning is forcing me to look at new types of technology which is cool. I’m becoming way more familiar with Google Classroom than I’ve ever been and trying to find creative ways to give [students] information is helping me get more comfortable with different types of online formats. If we were in a normal classroom, I probably would have never used Jamboard but I did it with APUSH just to see how it worked and I got good feedback on that so it will help me with modifying what I’ve previously done in the classroom.”
However, online schooling is not without its flaws as students and teachers alike have had to overcome unexpected challenges.
“I don’t know how many people can properly learn over a video screen,” junior Adam Kajganic said. “The stuff I have learned [this year] is because I’ve put a lot of effort into it.”
Pirog added, “When I started Zoom classes, I struggled to take in information during meetings and utilize my time wisely during them. Now after so much time has passed, I know when I need to focus, and I think teachers also learn how to structure their classes so they’re most effective.”
As a teacher, Ms. Barr’s struggles were a little different. “I would say the biggest challenge I find from distance learning is just testing. It is hard to be able to do full online tests without compromising test security. [Students] know that they still have the resources around even if they were told not to use them, so it still makes cheating much more likely. It’s especially difficult because AP has certain structures that we have to follow and I know placing restrictive time limits reduces some of the [cheating], but it’s not always possible.”
Despite the trials and tribulations, online learning still provided unique benefits to the learning experience. Students reported more free time and a more comfortable learning environment in their own homes as some positives of virtual classes.
“Probably the biggest advantage [of online learning] is time and being able to manage it better,” junior Adam Kajganic commented. “At the start of the semester, I had COC classes every single day right after school ‘till 3:00 or sometimes even 5:00.” While Kajganic furthered his college application and took on new hobbies, he learned how to manage his time better. Figuring out when to take a break and how to balance classes with extracurriculars were some skills he developed over the course of the school year.
In addition, one of the positives of online classes was “having a more comfortable environment around me to learn,” according to Kajganic. “Some teachers allow me to have my camera off and not talk all class, but still pay attention,” added Kajganic.
Nevertheless, many students and staff still prefer in-person learning over online classes.
“I definitely have a preference,” Kajganic emphasized. He described in-person learning as the “smarter, long-term learning choice,” expressing that there was “a certain level of connection between people that you just can’t get over Zoom.”
“The more distance learning goes on the more I’m not a fan of it, but at the same time the more I’m thankful that we have it as an option,” said Ms. Barr. “I think that as time goes on, I miss being able to interact with students, I miss the ease of just looking over their shoulder and saying, ‘Hey, what about this?’ and checking in that way, I miss that kind of one-on-one connection we make with students in the classroom.”
Pirog agrees, adding, “Although Zoom classes are a way of learning that fits the circumstances, I prefer in-person classes. I think it’s easier to focus in-person and being able to see people in person during class makes it a less stressful and more happy experience.”
After so long in Zoom classes, “normal” school seems like a distant memory. The transition was not without its downsides, but students and teachers seem to have adjusted well to our new normal, even if most people cannot wait to resume in-person classes.