Updated: Oct 24, 2020
By Clara Pressey
Ava Jones via Voices of Gen-Z
For most students in the United States, their last school year ended differently than anticipated. Instead of finishing it in the classrooms, they had grown accustomed to, they spent March onward at home — being taught over the internet. As the 2020/2021 school year approaches, and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage around us, schools and their districts are left to make difficult decisions about how to continue the education of their students while keeping everyone safe.
But how do the students themselves feel about online learning? What do they dislike about it and what do they like about it? How are their personal opinions about online learning affecting how they feel about schools reopening in the fall? Over the past couple of weeks, I got the opportunity to meet with five middle and high school students across the same district via video call and ask them these very questions.
Each of the students I interviewed had their own unique relationship with online learning, with its own nuances and contributing factors. Overall, however, there was a recurring theme that was out of everyone’s control: a lack of preparation. They felt that teachers were left to scramble together online lesson plans, and, as a result, the depth, quality, and difficulty of assignments suffered. According to one student, Jonathan (14), “At the end of the year, I felt like the school was just trying to figure something out, but they didn’t really know how to do it.” Another student, Nora (14) said: “It feels like you just kind of cheated your way through the last three months of school.”
The school district that these students attend is beginning the year entirely online, so hopefully, they’ll be more prepared going forward. However, for one student, Hannah (13), a lack of preparation is not a fear left to the past. She attends a charter in the district that is moving forward with a different plan — families of secondary students have the option of keeping their children at home or sending them to school every other day in assigned cohorts. She is worried that, should there be a major spike in cases this fall that shuts down everything completely, her school may not be prepared for all of their students to learn entirely online.
“I think that their plan is decent, but that they should be preparing to go into fully online learning.” - Hannah
Another major factor was self-sufficiency. Some of the students I interviewed enjoyed the fact that they could learn at their own pace and work within a schedule that suited them. However, even students who considered themselves independent learners and didn’t hate learning remotely believed that the quality of their education suffered from a lack of discussion-based assignments and more limited access to teachers. One student said that remote learning worked better in classes where the teachers already expected the students to be more self-reliant because their lesson plans were better suited to a more separated style of learning.
A major issue that emerged with the self-sufficiency aspect of remote learning was that there was no real way to monitor whether or not students were doing their own work. Because the assignments were easier and there weren’t teachers around, some of the people I talked to said it became easier to avoid doing their work and had a few struggles with self-motivation. Even one student who didn’t have those kinds of struggles, Heather (14), still said that she felt like “Nothing was really set in stone.”
One person I talked to, James (17), is in a unique situation among the group that I interviewed; he’s going into his senior year. Since he goes to the same charter as Hannah, he is taking up the opportunity to attend in its hybrid form. He wholeheartedly wants to keep everyone safe, and also wants to get as much out of his final year of high school as possible.
Even in a group that includes those who desperately miss socialization and really disliked remote learning, no one felt that their schools were being too careful. Of course, there were some who wished that they would do little things differently or be more careful, but almost everyone agreed that it would be unwise and dangerous for schools to return in full form this fall.
Note: All names have been changed to protect the privacy of the students I interviewed.
Written by writer Clara Pressey