COVID-19 has brought adjustments to almost every aspect of our lives, including the way we learn in school. Amidst the pandemic, many school systems had determined it safer for students to do their schooling from home. As assignments and live classes moved from physical to digital, and students began adapting to this new normal, we can’t help but wonder if virtual instruction will become the new norm.
When considering whether online school is destined to be the standard way of learning, many things have to be taken into consideration: students’ home environments, technology availability and stability, the differences between an online and in-person education, and the other aspects missing from being in a physical school building.
If we’re going to be learning at home, we have to take a look at how ideal those environments are for learning. From what we can see, students’ home environments during this stint of online learning have not always been free of distractions. I think I’ve heard it all: dogs barking, younger siblings interrupting, relatives working noisily in the background, neighbors mowing their lawns, etc. How can we make our homes our school when it’s also a place for others to eat, sleep, play, and relax? At home, there’s so much risk for conflicting interests with others. One of the best things about being in school in-person is that it’s a separate place, where everyone is working on the same things: less conflicts there.
Not to mention, with these constant distractions, students become more reluctant to turn on their cameras and microphones, and participate as if it was a real classroom. Students and teachers alike have argued that it’s hard to replicate that real classroom feeling when you may go without seeing each other’s faces for an entire year.
Even if students do have a calm, quiet place to focus on their work, another disturbance has plagued students during this stretch of online learning: technology issues. From computers malfunctioning and WiFi being spotty to websites lagging due to immense traffic, how can we get a quality education without being able to access everything we need? Quick answer: we can’t. At school, the county is paying to ensure that we don’t face technology issues. Even if we do encounter issues, everyone is most likely experiencing the same problems and has access to the same solutions pioneered by a resident IT coordinator (Mr. Tim Hall here at Blake). But when you’re the only one with an unreliable connection and you don’t have an IT professional at home, it’s easy to fall behind.
It’s hard not to notice the difference between an online and in-person education. With the schedule MCPS has implemented this year, each class gets only two periods of live instruction each week. Compared to the five periods students would get in a physical school environment, it’s obvious the work now is rushed, and we may not be meeting learning standards in some classes. Even if we were to edit the online school schedule to mirror that of regular school, there are issues that could occur and disrupt that situation completely. If a student has technology problems for a day, they are now missing seven classes instead of four. Adjusting from our 10-15 minute breaks back to five minute transition times, especially online, would be hard to manage. With no virtual bell to keep us on schedule, the passionate teachers who go “a bit” over their time with our current schedule would turn into teachers making us late for our next class.
Besides all the looming issues that can occur and disrupt online school, there are just some aspects of an in-person education that can’t be replicated online. First off, the quality connections—not internet connections, but the relationships. As mentioned, it’s hard to interact with people when they’re hiding behind a black screen with just their name. Going fully online would mean missing out on getting to know new classmates and having a harder time strengthening connections with those we already know. Online school means no more hallway chats or whispering during class—all the little interactions that make high school fun.
You also can’t forget all the events we’d miss. Hallway decorating competitions for homecoming, the band filling our halls on Fridays, stunning fashion shows, fascinating cultural food tastings, educating field trips: none of that can happen with the same authenticity when we’re online. These are events that define the high school experience, and are ways for us as the student body to take a break from the stresses of school and just have fun. We connect with each other and make memories that last forever. Our school is such a community, and online school as a permanent situation would only tear our bonds.
Maybe we’re handling online school just fine while we have to. As COVID-19 continues to ravage our country, it is our safest move. But, that doesn’t mean it should become a standard aspect of our lives. With all we’d miss by constantly sitting behind a screen, online school should not be the future of schooling.