What have we learned from online school?


Olive Artman, Staff Writer

“Are we living through the future?”

This question, posed by freshman Riley Walker, captures the spirit of what many people are wondering during this godawful pandemic. Will the changes being implemented be permanent, or will we have to wait out this pandemic a little longer?

There is a lot of research on the advantages and drawbacks of online learning, but we obviously can’t know how it will impact students in their futures. Will it be influential and beneficial for future job markets and industries? Will it have irreversible effects on children’s mental health?

Time will tell on these issues, but we don’t have to wait to start anticipating what the future might look like. Cary-Grove students can already provide insight into what they’ve endured to this point and what they’re going through now as we wait for schools to fully reopen.

Transitioning virtually from middle school to my freshman year in high school has left me and many students feeling robbed. Robbed of time, robbed of opportunity, and robbed of experiences that are essential in shaping our character. Having all of that taken away leads us to question whether our current learning situation is good enough.

I give a lot of credit to District 155 for doing the best that they can, because what they are attempting to do is difficult and has never been done before. It’s even harder with the lack of input from their students. How can our leaders know how to support us if we don’t help them understand what we go through on a daily basis?

I think it’s safe to say that there has been a noticeable shift in students’ mental health.

My “mental health has gotten worse since remote learning started,” freshman Deisy B. Escobedo said. The longer the “pandemic goes on, the worse it gets.” At this point, she “isn’t sure if going to school will help it.” 

Many kids agree that going back to school might not take away all of the anxiety that they feel. In fact, it could generate more feelings of uncertainty. Going back to school in person could make students feel unprepared when it comes to learning things how we used to, but the hope is that we can adapt to how we used to learn just as we adapted to online school.

Other students share those concerns, but are still somewhat enthusiastic to transition to the hybrid learning model. 

 Freshman Julia Prantalos said going to school in person will allow her “to get a fair amount of attention and guidance” from her teachers. 

Along with that attention and guidance will come greater accountability. Doing school from our homes has given us the luxury of slacking off, cheating, and not completing our assigned work. It’s difficult to indulge in those luxuries when we aren’t hiding behind a computer screen, so going back to school may very well present a decline in missing/incomplete assignments.

There are other anxiety-inducing factors stemming from online learning beyond just the academic ones. There are social and emotional elements of in-person school that are lost when students are remote.

Freshman Eva Maiheck says that she “has had more anxiety than ever due to little interaction” with her teachers. It’s hard for her to “ask for help” when she barely talks to her teachers. 

Common exchanges between teachers and students such as “You’re doing a good job” or “That’s a great idea” are lacking in our online learning environment. Those simple phrases can really make a difference in a student’s attitude and progress. It makes students feel good when they receive validation from their teacher, but not having that or any interaction with them whatsoever can leave students feeling confused and uncertain if they are doing assignments correctly.

One of the main feelings consuming students during the pandemic is exhaustion. Freshman Peter Ptzasek says that he feels exhausted from school “once or twice a week.” For many students, it’s daily. 

Feeling burnt out can stem from many things related to online learning, including unclear directions from teachers, being a visual or hands on learner in a virtual classroom, and having a heavy workload. It’s an arduous task to stay motivated in keeping up with your work and getting good grades when you aren’t fully sure if you’re learning anything.

To avoid feeling overwhelmed or worn out, students have turned to easier methods. Most of us are not disciplined when it comes to our phones — it’s practically a habit to have it on you at all times. When doing homework or daily assignments, what’s to stop students from searching up answers on Google, or asking friends and classmates for the answers? 

These aren’t options when you’re doing school in person because you have to use what you’ve learned. If you weren’t paying attention during your meetings, then that obviously gives students more of an incentive to utilize the internet. At this point in remote learning, many students feel like they are working to get a good grade, not to learn.

Another emotional element that’s missing during online learning is seeing your classmates. A frequent theme that we have all noticed is students hiding their faces on zoom. 

I find myself doing this in classes where I don’t have friends, but I wanted to know why other students point their cameras to their ceilings. I first thought that it had to do with not being put together. Maybe you have messy hair, are still in your pjs, and just rolled out of bed. I wouldn’t want my classmates or teachers to see me like that either, but even when I am made up, I never felt too conscious of how I looked on the zoom camera because I didn’t think anyone really cared or noticed. 

Some people may hide their faces because they are eating and don’t want to be seen on camera, but some students, such as Walker, feel that “looking at her screen gives her Zoom fatigue.” 

That’s a phrase that we have been hearing lately, and there is truth in what she is saying. There are people who can manage to pay attention to their teachers without looking and being directly on screen. I am one of the many students who do that, because sometimes it’s easier just to listen without feeling the pressure to look at the screen and have good posture. 

Ptzasek finds himself more willing to show his face “when it’s with a teacher he likes.” It makes sense that you want a teacher whom you favor to know you are paying at least some attention to what they’re teaching. 

The only other reason that I could think of as to why students are unwilling to show their faces on Zoom is because they are worried about someone taking an unflattering photo or video of them. Even though our teachers are vocal on how inappropriate and somewhat illegal it is to take photos of classmates without their permission, it doesn’t mean that students heed that warning. 

It’s nerve-wracking to know that there could be someone making fun of you and essentially cyberbullying you without you knowing. I think that this is the main unexpressed reason for not showing our faces on Zoom.

Students have been feeling unmotivated and overworked since last March, but there is a visible change in their notions about online learning. Escobedo feels that “remote learning is complicated and stress-inducing.” 

Students are finding it difficult to remember their schedules and classrooms, because the district has given every teacher the authority to choose how they will run their classroom based on the red and blue group system. Some teachers have you Zoom in for class, while others send you off to do asynchronous work. Many kids are struggling to keep track of which teacher is doing what. 

Despite those challenges, Prantalos feels this year is more structured than it was back in the spring. When she was in 8th grade, remote learning “felt more like a temporary solution. Teachers did not seem that serious about our learning,” she said. 

At the time, students rarely met with their teachers virtually over Zoom or Google Meets. It barely felt like we were learning anything, because all of the work was asynchronous. Apart from watching the occasional videos of our teachers teaching, the student body was on our own. A lot of kids didn’t see the point in teaching themselves — why would they? Whether you are having a decent school year so far or an awful one, we can all agree that there is more order and support from our teachers than at the end of last year.

There are many elements of remote learning that students want to change so that school is more manageable for them. 

Maiheck said that “being able to schedule meetings with their teachers the same way that they do with their counselors” would make communication with their teachers easier. When a student wants to schedule a meeting with their counselor, they get a list of open meeting times to select from. Once they pick one out and fill out the form, the meeting saves to their calendar reminders so they remember to attend. This would be a useful method in getting ahold of our teachers when we need help.

Escobedo thinks that “we should have more time to turn in assignments.” When work piles up, it’s hard to keep track of when things are due, and more often, there just isn’t enough time to get it all done. Having an extension by at least a day may help kids who struggle getting work submitted on time. 

Some students wish that there was more interaction with their teachers and classmates. Break Rooms are used so that classmates can talk and get to know each other, but usually mics and video go off until the breakout room ends. The rooms are not utilized for their purpose, making them somewhat pointless, but that doesn’t mean kids don’t want to talk to each other. It’s just awkward doing it over a computer — nothing about it feels natural. 

I think it’s important to make new friends and meet new people, so for the time being, teachers should offer their students to be in breakout rooms if they have other friends in the classroom. I have always talked in breakout rooms when I have at least one friend from school in there with me, but when there isn’t anyone I know, I try to talk only when necessary. Students will engage more with the material if teachers give them the opportunity to “see” their friends. 

Prantalos thinks that “not all school rules should be applying to virtual classrooms.” She feels it’s unfair to enforce a dress code or lecture a student about what they’re wearing when they are in the comfort of their own home. It’s clearly inappropriate to not have enough clothing on in Zoom meetings, but if a kid is in their sweats, teachers should let them be. 

The biggest and maybe most complicated imperfection with remote learning is the loss of motivation in our students. I say it’s complicated because there isn’t a clear-cut way to make it better. Our students are not feeling driven by school anymore — even the kids who usually do well. 

It no longer feels important to get a good grade or complete an assignment, because it doesn’t leave us feeling accomplished. Without that incentive, students aren’t going to see the point in doing their work. I really can’t generate any solutions to this problem except for going to school. Going back comes with its risks, and as a student or a parent, you have to decide if it’s worth it, but there is no perfect solution until things are somewhat “normal” in the world again.

How does what we are living through have an impact on the world’s future? We will never really know until the time comes, but with the technological advances around the world leading our society into digital services, the skills we are learning now may prove to be useful. 

It really is the little things, such as learning how to use virtual meeting software like Zoom and Google Meets, sending emails and scheduling meetings, and collaborating on projects virtually. These are skills that people are being trained to do in the workforce, but we students will have already mastered them. 

Meeting online may be the main form of communication for the workforce in the future. We have all seen on the news how big corporations such as Google and Facebook have started to create job positions that are fully at home. Other businesses will soon follow in their footsteps.

There are many benefits of having employees work from home. According to a Global Workplace Analytic Survey, 73% of employees working from home say that they are “very successful,” and 86% say that they feel “fully productive.” There are fewer liability issues for companies, which makes the working from home option more enticing. We see where the world is going, so why not use the skills that we are learning and embrace the future?

Remote learning has taken a toll on our students, teachers, and parents. It’s very important to have these conversations on what we can improve as a community to make things more efficient for everyone. Faculty and parents should be proactive by asking our students how they feel on a daily basis, because virtual learning is very demanding. If there is a part of remote learning that you feel could be better, bring it to a teacher or faculty member’s attention. We need to work and support each other so that our students can be successful in this temporary virtual environment.