On Wednesday, March 25, Clayton High school began its first day of online school as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19. Many mixed opinions on this new online learning arose as students and teachers alike transitioned into the unfamiliar virtual classroom. AP Biology teacher Adam Bergeron expresses his concern on the lack of human interaction that teachers have with students in the regular classroom: “Early in my career, a wise administrator told me that ‘teaching is fundamentally a human endeavor.’ Now that I have lost the daily interpersonal contact with students, I feel that teaching is harder than it has been since I started 17 years ago.” Bergeron said.
AP Economics teacher Daniel Glossenger voices similar opinions about the new online learning curriculum. “The biggest limitation [of online school] for me is not being able to see and connect with students in real time. I really try to respond in the moment to student questions, which is hard to do online,” Glossenger states. In order to combat feelings of confusion and isolation that students can have during the school’s closure, teachers have implemented optional office hours into the school day for students to ask questions regarding homework and to simply to interact with peers and instructors.
However, even with the addition of office hours, CHS junior Koray Akduman feels that his current learning experience is not on par with the one he had in the regular classroom. “Online school can be quite a bit harder to ask questions in. Class sizes are also larger with online classes since a lot of [teachers] have to teach multiple periods in just one online session.” Akduman said.
The loss of structured periods are indeed an issue for other students as they lose the close-knit community that they have built in each of their classes throughout the school year. English teacher Benjamin Murphy mentions that there may also be an issue with the available times of office hours. “It’s a good idea to make sure that there’s time protected for each content area,” he says, “But English hours are unfortunately early on Monday and Wednesday. I don’t think many students are prepared to work together at 8:00 A.M. these days.” Murphy said.
There are too many variables that need to be held constant in order for this to work.
— Adam Bergeron
To make matters more complicated for high school students and their teachers, standardized testing has also been shifted. In addition to the cancellation of the May ACT and SAT, the College Board has also announced that AP tests will now be taken online. These new revised online exams will also be entirely free response, much shorter–only taking 45 minutes each– than regular AP exams and will also cover only 75% of the AP content for each class. Some AP teachers are not happy with the course of action that the College Board has decided to take.
Bergeron believes that the AP exams should have been cancelled this year: “I think the new test, in whatever form it is administered, will have problems. For example, how will students who receive extended time be accommodated? How will the College Board ensure that cheating does not take place on a grand scale? What if a student’s internet connection fails (even momentarily) and their progress is lost? There are too many variables that need to be held constant in order for this to work.”
CHS junior Annie Ruan agreees. “”I don’t like that I have to take a test at home because my environment might be different from others’ environment. Online school may not prepare people as well as regular school because they cannot go to a library or stay after school to study. It may become difficult to concentrate at home, where many distractions may be.” Ruan said.
The College Board has stated on its website that there will be software designed to detect plagiarism among peers and has warned students that consequences will be severe if they are caught cheating. Likewise, the website also claims that the College Board is trying to minimize the effect that internet connection may have on test takers. Despite the limitations and confusion of online school and standardized tests, teachers and students alike can acknowledge the benefits of the virtual classroom. A prime advantage would be the freedom that comes with the flexibility of online school. “I have been trying to create a batch of activities for students to complete on a weekly basis. I have promised students that they will not spend more than 30 minutes per day on Biology assignments,” Bergeron states.
Most teachers have similar lesson plans and are posting relatively light amounts of work on Google Classroom every day. Many students have expressed their enjoyment of this new curriculum. “It seems to me that the teachers are giving us the essentials for class so there’s a lot less work than a usual school night and of course no class work. An advantage is that students can work at their own pace and learn to be independent,” CHS student Josie Stone argues.
The shift to online tools such as Google Classroom and Google Meet has also been relatively easy for teachers to grasp as a new method of providing learning materials to students. “I’ve used Google classroom for a few years, so I have not experienced a learning curve there. Google meet is new to me, but it’s relatively intuitive. I’m going to start screen recording this week as well,” Murphy says. “I keep thinking how much more difficult this would have been ten or fifteen years ago, when we didn’t have these tools– or even a few years ago, before students had school-issued computers”, he adds.
As Clayton High School makes its transition to online school for the remainder of the school year, remembering to stay grateful and optimistic about the freer schedule and the online tools available are effective ways of alleviating anxiety of the situation. “I hope to connect with my students and to remind them that they are critically important to help the world rebuild its economy and society after we come out on the other side of all this,” Glossenger says, “Learning about economics is one thing, but staying engaged with learning and using this as an opportunity to grow are so much more important. Take it from me, I’m teaching myself piano to keep learning and growing!”