This is Part Five of a six-part series of articles based on the results of a school year 2020-21 essay contest related to a scholarship contest sponsored by International Virtual Learning Academy (https://internationalvla.com/), a division of Global Student Network (www.globalstudentnetwork.com). The question posed was: “What was the most significant takeaway you believe students learned about online education during the coronavirus pandemic?”
We extracted ten important lessons learned about online school in Part One and addressed those ten issues individually in Part Two and Part Three. Part Four focused on what surfaced as the main “lesson learned” by survey respondents – motivation and self-discipline. Part Five touches on comments by students about the positive and negative aspects of technology and related logistical limitations faced during COVID.
TEACHERS SPEAK OUT ABOUT TECHNOLOGICAL CHALLENGES
Alexandra Frost, writing on October 2, 2020 for the website “We Are Teachers” (https://www.weareteachers.com/virtual-teaching-issues/ ) summarized five of the most common virtual teaching challenges as follows:
- Challenge #1: One of the most common frustrations is the hot mess of tech issues that come with trying to get thirty kids on the same call. Sometimes this happens at home, and sometimes as part of a partially live-streamed classroom. Signing in can be a ten-minute process as students join and leave the call for various reasons, some including technical difficulties.
- Challenge #2: Muting and unmuting- long delays as they get close and squint to find the unmute or mute button.
- Challenge #3: Some students are dominating the conversation, others are MIA. All of a sudden, that student who answers too much can just unmute himself and talk without raising a hand.
- Challenge #4: Do I require video or not? The heated debate about whether to require kids to keep their video on or not continues. Some say students should not be required to appear onscreen if they don’t want to. Others say it’s necessary for nonverbal feedback and to get to know students you’ve never met.
- Challenge #5: Dealing with the unexpected – One teacher posted to a Facebook group: “I was in Google Meet with 89 kids and my kitten broke in and ran right across my laptop. By walking on keys, he then typed MMMMMMBBBB in the chat. By the time I caught him and apologized, 28 kids responded to him in the chat.” Dealing with these types of unexpected, and sometimes comical, situations, is one of the reasons we became teachers. They happened in the live classroom, and they are still happening in the virtual classroom.
STUDENTS TELL IT LIKE IT IS
Learning New Technology Skills
“…through different technological platforms, we [have had to] construct an artificial method of learning.”
“Thanks to technological advance like the Internet, Google Classroom, Zoom and Skype, school was able to continue. My teachers were able to post assignments, teach classes and grade papers. Students could complete homework, give presentations, and have group discussions! The school year, as far as academics, went on without interruption.”
“I became quite proficient at Zoom something I’d never heard of before. I thought that was just the sound you shoulted when running fast as a kid. Technology, in general, became easier for me.”
“Kids have been shoved into the new age of technology. No longer is it pencils and papers but zoom and google classroom. Students have learned however to adapt. Like everything in life it’s a challenge. It starts out as this impossible task that seems so unreachable, but it slowly becomes more and more manageable. It becomes almost normal. “
“Online classes have also been important for students to learn technology skills that will be valuable for the rest of their lives.”
Equal Access Issues
“Disadvantaged students without access to suitable technology for online classes were left even further behind. “
“In classes like math and science–where board work or lab work is critical–online students are disadvantaged because they cannot see the board or the experiment as well as in-person students.
“What about the less fortunate students that do not have access to today’s technology? No student left behind. I am afraid that is just a thought of yesterday and it will be an unfortunate reality that many students have been left behind.”
“Though many students around the country had access to technology and a stable internet connection, others did not. I personally have struggled with online school due to an unstable internet connection and it has certainly presented a struggle to my education. Making the shift to publicly provide all of the resources kids need to succeed in online school is a must.”
“It is important that the students have access to a laptop and basic Wi-Fi is available. Also, students should be held accountable as active learners that can offer classmates assistance when others are afraid to ask for help.”
“I truly hope this changes the way individuals with chronic illness or other health impairments now go to public school. We are a society that is so advanced in technology, how have we not had virtual classes for individuals with special circumstances already? The pandemic has pushed us to realize we still move forward, just differently. A better different!”
“A teacher attempting to teach their students online will have a more difficult time engaging their students than when in the classroom because of technological difficulties. A poor Wi-Fi connection is the common but brutal enemy of an online teacher and the student, as not all students may have access to a stable Wi-Fi connection or even a connection at all and the teacher instantly loses the attention of all the students when a connection fails.”
“As a student in a hybrid-learning environment–online school three days a week and in-person school two days a week–I have experienced challenges with my technology and challenges created as a result of teachers struggling with technology.”
“My 8-year-old computer presents the most difficult of the challenges because it sometimes struggles to run Zoom–the connective platform used by my school–because Zoom requires a great deal of running power. As a result, my computer is incredibly slow, making it harder to participate in class. For the first half of the 2020-2021 school year, I missed many of the quick, 5-10-minute class-activities because loading time often took 5-10 minutes. “
“Unfortunately, my teachers – at times – also struggle with technology – or struggle to meet student needs in an online learning environment.”
PAYING ATTENTION TO THE BIG PICTURE
Mark Lieberman, a reporter for Education Week, successfully wrapped up the dilemmas faced in the COVID-19 fast-turn to virtual education: “The technological and logistical chaos in K-12 education during the COVID-19 outbreak is likely to continue for some time. Educators may feel they need to rush to get things up and running, but experts caution them to take the time to figure out the best approaches for protecting students’ data privacy.”
In summary, everyone needs to pay attention, make smart decisions, not force the use of technology where technology may not be needed. Virtual learning delivery is quickly becoming the new norm, but at this stage, the unknown can cause confusion and disconnection with participants. It’s important to consider lessons we have learned from students themselves as we move forward to addressing what level or mixture of virtual learning will be incorporated into the daily lives of K to 12 school children.
Just a reminder that the comments we chose to feature in this article represent a small sampling of hundreds of comments received. All comments and observations were drawn directly from responses to the essay question. Based on student privacy requirements, quotations and comments are listed anonymously.
COMING SOON: PART SIX OF SIX – LESSONS LEARNED: A SUMMARY