Around this time last year, my school gathered all the students together, and pitched to us the idea of distance learning. The administration emphasized that this was a temporary thing – that in two weeks, we’d be back on campus. A year later, we have yet to return.
Looking back, I’m very happy that it has gone as well as it has. My school truly rose to the occasion. From Friday movie nights on Zoom, to modified clubs, and even an online talent show. It’s been great.
However, I can’t say it’s all sunshine and rainbows. I haven’t seen most of my classmates in person since our campus closed, and as a senior, there’s a huge chance I won’t see any of them before I graduate.
I’ve taken some time to evaluate my love-hate relationship with online learning. Here’s the shortlist of what I’ve come to enjoy and the things that have yet to be fixed a whole year later.
Pro: You can get up later.
It sounds so obvious at first, but hear me out. I used to get up for school at 7 a.m. pre-COVID. But one of my friends, like a majority of my classmates, has a much longer commute. So he was forced to get up as early as 5:30 a.m. to make it on time.
Now, I get up between 7:30-8:00 a.m. fully rested, have my coffee, and roll up on time at 8:30 a.m. Some days, I even have enough time to go to Starbucks and get my venti caramel latte.
Con: Less one-on-one teaching
I go to a small, private special-education high school, which prides itself on the small size of the student body. This year there are 85 students total, in all four grades.
But while class sizes have remained small, the opportunity for students to get help from specific teachers during academic support periods has diminished. Academic support at my school is basically like study hall. It’s a class where you can do homework for other classes, or make up classwork.
And even though the class period is still happening virtually, there’s less opportunity for asking teachers direct questions because we’re regularly communicating on Slack.
Pro: Fewer distractions
Some people may argue that there are even more distractions now that we’re completely doing school online. But that’s not how I see it.
When my classmates and I are on campus, we’re a rowdy crew. The energy level is always high, which can create a positive and fun atmosphere, but also a super chaotic one. Distance learning has helped us greatly with this. In the physical classroom, we could have four or five students all talking over each other. Whereas on Zoom, one person talks at a time. It’s glorious. And I can tell it’s helped our teachers feel less stressed.
Don’t get me wrong, I miss the chaos every day. The discussions we used to have were priceless. But now when I’m at home, I can be on mute, rocking out to Ashley McBryde, and nobody will know. It’s basically a dream come true.
Con: Easier to cheat
There is a portion of our student population that doesn’t want to put in as much effort as the rest (as is true for every single school in the world). They’ll go online and search the answers to worksheets, quizzes, and even tests, to which our teachers are none the wiser. They get away with it. And it just encourages even more students to do it.
Pro: It’s easier to type things
Many people at my school struggle with legibility when it comes to handwriting. I am no exception. So traditional note-taking is pretty hard on the eyes of my teachers, and admittedly, my own. Mine has been described as “chicken scratch” on more than one occasion.
We use the PDF editor, Kami, a lot. It’s basically a tool where you can type stuff on documents. It’s alright, but it’s a major leg-up for those of us who have a harder time writing by hand. While typing answers on a separate sheet of paper has always been a provided accommodation, it took me until we started online learning to actually take advantage of it.
Con: Unequal access
Because not everybody at my school has access to great internet or compatible devices, there are students for which participating is much more difficult than just opening their computer and launching Zoom.
Some of my classmates use two different devices, like a phone for audio and a computer for video. Others just can’t turn on their cameras, because their internet is too weak, their device doesn’t have a camera, and a whole host of other reasons. I’ve even seen others booted out of meetings whenever our teacher shares their screen.
Pro: Presentations are a breeze
On a lighter note, presenting is a lot easier for me. Because when I’m at school I have to get up, swim through the Sea of A Million Backpacks, walk to the front of the room, look for the correct HDMI adapter, plug it in, wait for my presentation to load, and then finally present to the by now half-asleep audience.
On Zoom, it’s just one click of a button. Also, it’s easier because I don’t have to listen to the people sighing with judgmental boredom, laughing to the person next to them, fidget spinning, texting, or any of that.
Con: My senior year is completely online
Our school has a very healthy community. Everyone is friends with everyone else. Unfortunately, due to online learning, it’s not as fun, because as soon as you click that "Leave Meeting" button, you remember how alone you are.
Additionally, as a senior, it brought me to tears to read an update from our principal that said they wouldn’t return to in-person classes until the fall. This means, like last year, there will be no prom, there will be no graduation, and there will be no parties or celebrations. There’s no silver lining in this one. Sorry.