As we pass the one month mark of online learning, it is evident that the school year of 2020-2021 has proven itself to be riddled with a variety of unforeseen obstacles and some potential benefits for students and teachers alike. Due to the complexities surrounding the online school environment, it is vital to gather factual information and opinionated viewpoints from members of the THS community to garner a more comprehensive understanding of the pros and cons of virtual learning.
Independence- High-school students at Tumwater have more flexibility as to how they manage their time in class, catering to students who are independent learners and are driven by self-discipline.
Comfortable Learning Environment- For many students, home is where the comfy sweats and cozy blankets are, and on a crisp fall day, these materials can make a school day a little warmer.
Eco-friendliness- Omitting the transportation emissions from teachers and students to-and-from school since they are staying home helps to give back to our planet as our carbon footprint diminishes.
Multiple Avenues for Communication- Although students cannot physically interact with their teachers, during online school, technology is the next best mode of communication, and teachers have continued to be invaluable resources to students and have made efforts to be accessible through a variety of online avenues which they may not have readily used if school was in-person such as Zoom meet-ups and email.
Learning Styles- Although individual students have a variety of preferred learning styles, some students are much more physical learners, preferring the feel of paper rather than a chromebook’s square keys, so the online learning environment is not conducive for their academic understanding. Additionally, students who tend to be more dependent learners, requiring intensive, hands-on guidance from teachers for a successful academic year, may struggle to stay motivated during virtual learning.
Increase of Mental Health Risks- Because of the isolating nature of virtual school, most students lack the influential social interactions that in-person school offered alongside academics in the past, leaving many THS community members more vulnerable to negative impacts on their mental health.
Unreliability of Technology- Although the school district has taken great lengths to ensure that every student has access to technology, there are oftentimes periods of technological malfunctions such as failure of Wi-Fi connectivity, unreliable audio and camera difficulties, and even bad weather like storms and power-outages.
Technical Training- Although many students are comfortable navigating the technological world of online learning, many teachers face the challenge of learning the complexities of technology while also using these online resources to teach their students.
To capture the thoughts and feelings from the THS community, we interviewed a select student and staff member to share their experiences with online school this year in order to establish a more well-rounded understanding of the benefits and detriments that accompany a virtual learning atmosphere.
From a Teacher’s Perspective: Mrs. Stussy
Although online learning has been an unfamiliar shift for all, THS staff have been faced with the challenge of teaching their new students while simultaneously learning to adapt to a brand new method of schooling online. Mrs. Stussy, Tumwater High School’s honors chemistry, nutrition, and accelerated physical science teacher, was worried about navigating Zoom classes at the beginning of the year, but with training and practice, she now feels more confident, comfortable, and capable to do so as she successfully adapts to online school. However, overcoming these challenges associated with virtual learning was no easy feat, and over the first few weeks of school, she was surprised to face a dramatic increase in her workload, explaining that she was “working 30 extra hours a week” like many other teachers who struggled to grasp the complex nuances associated with virtual school. Over the course of online learning, Mrs. Stussy has also discovered that she misses “not sitting all the time” and her easier ability to get “[her] steps in” in the classroom, another surprising factor that a virtual education lacks.
When inquired about student engagement, Mrs. Stussy remarked that because “building relationships with students is why [she loves] being a teacher,” the lack of these student-teacher connections, due to the oftentimes socially uncomfortable Zoom environment, is the hardest aspect of virtual learning for her. Especially during the start of a normal school year when teachers have the opportunity to meet their new students and to analyze their class’s dynamic, she has expressed her trouble to do so, explaining that she would not be able to recognize some students if she saw them out-and-about because she has never heard their voices or seen their faces. Mrs. Stussy expressed her appreciation for students that felt comfortable to speak and show their faces in class, but she also understands how some students feel uncomfortable in this virtual classroom.
In the past, Mrs. Stussy, alongside most science teachers at THS, have relied on labs in order to create an outlet for students to grasp key concepts through hands-on learning. However, this year Mrs. Stussy has adapted her lab process by sending interactive lab programs and videos that present the lab’s procedures in an attempt to maintain a semblance of normality. Additionally, Mrs. Stussy, who previously relied on an activity known as “whiteboard review” during which students answered practice questions on individual whiteboards to display their understanding of the curriculum to her, now, “[their] whiteboard is private chat” in Zoom. To combat the temptations that accompany online learning, she explained that “tests aren’t as heavily weighted” which further emphasizes her efforts to grasp how well students are learning online as daily assignments are worth more points than usual.
Although Mrs. Stussy and other members of the staff are facing unexpected challenges, they continue to express resiliency as they go to great lengths to cater to students’ needs, constantly welcoming feedback in order to provide students the best virtual education that they can this year.
Mrs. Stussy’s virtual school setup
A Student’s View: Clayton Huyck
Online remote learning has been a bittersweet experience for Clayton Huyck. Clayton knows, and feels it himself, that we all just want to go back to our school and sit at our desks and be with our friends, while we learn. He copes with this feeling by reminding himself that it’s not necessary for everyone to come back, yet.
Like many students, Clayton is having a hard time finding motivation. He finds himself completing assignments late or after serious contemplation, and or procrastination. The hardest part about online schooling is the “temptation of rolling back over” and going to bed or simply scrolling through your phone and looking up to find that you are left in the zoom call with just your teacher. Clayton is somehow able to pull himself through these obstacles and strongly feels that your learning responsibility is “on [you].”
The virtues for Clayton is the extra beauty sleep, and the ability to move and work at his own pace. He is also excited about the idea that he can freely go to vacation with his family in Arizona and be able to work on the way, never missing out! The most surprising thing Clayton mentions in his debut, is his interest in trying a new club. Clayton is going to be trying out the debate team. He says, “The coddled environment of zoom is allowing me to step outside my comfort zone.”
What Clayton lacks from remote learning is almost impossible for him to make up without the classrooms. Clayton finds it hard to establish strong bonds between his teachers, and even other students. Another important factor missing from Clayton’s routine is the opportunity to run the Thunderbird Café, an important building block of Clayton’s character growth, and his main source of community service hours. The closure of the cafe is a big hindrance to Clayton’s social health as he gravely misses his “coworkers”. Along with the piles of homework he is putting off, Clayton is also bombarded with the task of learning how to use several different programs. Clayton listed several programs including: Nearpod, Zoom, Edpuzzle, and Flipgrid. At the end of the day, Clayton is just happy to be able to do schooling.
Clayton’s virtual school setup
Although hybrid learning has arrived on Tumwater’s distant horizon, the future continues to be an unknown frontier. While both Mrs. Stussy and Clayton would love to go back to school to reconnect with students and staff, they understand that a plethora of hurdles accompany hybrid learning. However, Tumwater High School’s adaption to online learning is a clear testament to our community’s resilient character, so whatever final challenges 2020 and 2021 throws this way, we will persevere and will find strength through our THS community.
By: Olivia Myers and Kayla Ducey