Whatever it’s called — distance learning, remote education, Zoom school — the experience of students today is unlike anything, anywhere, in history.
What’s it like to study — and live — in the Age of COVID? Staples High School junior Jason Stein reports:
For nearly a year, high school students have lived in an apocalyptic world. Since September Staples has been split into 2 cohorts. We were in school only 2 days a week. That meant being on our computers for over 18 hours a week, with little interaction with our peers.
Starting tomorrow there are 4 cohorts, meaning 3 in-school days a week. The other 2 will be remote.
Among many challenges in high school, both social and academic, the computer screen continues to be my biggest.
School, homework, even extracurricular activities require the use of computers. Avoiding screens seems fantastical. Every day I spend at least 8 hours on my computer: 6 for school, at least 2 hours for homework and other responsibilities.
This has taken a toll on me both physically and mentally. Ironically, teachers have no choice but to assign us hours of homework while still saying “make sure you get outside” before class ends.
However, with the large chunk of free time remote learning has given me, I have successfully reduced my screen time by exploring new hobbies I would otherwise not have time to do. Since the pandemic began I learned to cook pastries, meals and snacks. From fried rice to cinnamon buns, expanding my cooking portfolio helped me learn new skills away from the digital world.
Our screens have not only absorbed our day-to-day lives; they have acted as barriers between us and our social lives. Although the hybrid model allows students to be in school part of the week, the social experience is dismal. With everyone spread apart in the classroom and at the lunch table, making friends is difficult. Additionally, due to the hybrid schedule, students are limited in our already impaired social lives to only 50% of students.
With mixed feelings about social distancing and masks, meeting friends outside of school can also be tricky. Nevertheless, technology can be a bridge in socialization when interaction with peers seems non-existent. Apps such as Discord have helped my friends and me cope through the pandemic by providing a place to casually chat and catch up. Even fun party games, like online Pictionary and trivia, have helped me maintain my social life by creating a friendly way to meet new people online.
Contrarily, online tools can be limiting, especially in keeping students’ engagement during class.
On Zoom teachers use a variety of methods to try to engage their students. The most popular are breakout rooms. In smaller groups, teachers hope students can experience the same one-to-one discussions that occur in a normal classroom setting.
Although this method can be somewhat successful, it falls short on multiple aspects. In the absence of constant teacher supervision, breakout rooms can counterintuitively create quiet and sometimes awkward spaces where students are unproductive.
Another Zoom tool teachers use is the chat box, a way they can ask material-based questions that don’t require students to speak out loud to the class. This can be beneficial by allowing students to talk to the teacher more privately. The other side of this, however, is that class conversations are less open and engaging.
These problems not only exist within the classroom, but also in clubs and extracurriculars.
As a founder of the Staples chess team, I struggled with how to keep club members engaged. With participation dwindling and the annual club fair cancelled, my co-founder and I were anxious to find a way to retain normalcy within our club.
Through online resources, we figured out how to host online chess tournaments. We now have friendly competitions within our club, and even plan online tournaments with nearby high school chess teams.
Disregarding the many negative effects remote learning has had on Staples students, many benefits make the high school experience less stressful. The absence of commuting allows students to sleep in late. Private Zoom calls make after-school help more accessible.
Even with these benefits, the Staples High School experience has been lacking in many ways. After all, technology is just a tool. Without the conventional teacher-to-student classroom setting, Zoom cannot reproduce the same motivation to students within their homes.
As we strive for pre-Covid conditions, all I can do is hope that with time, I will be able to have a normal high school experience again.