My granddaughter has been taking classes online and I’m wondering what that’s actually like for her. She’s in 9th grade in a public school but just sits at home on a computer all day.
There’s no question that the pandemic has really disrupted education. Perhaps even more than business, where we’re learning that you can safely pop into a restaurant for a quick meal or visit the hardware store to get some supplies or even a new snow shovel. You can even meet a small group for drinks and particularly if you’re enjoying an outdoor patio area, be pretty darn safe from the viral scourge. But school is a different experience entirely, having evolved to be lots of kids + a teacher in a single room. In college, that can even translate into having a hundred or more students in a lecture hall being taught by a professor in front of the room.
Those experiences are difficult to translate into the digital world, and so this year we have all had a chance to reconsider what works best for teaching both from a student engagement and pedagogical perspective. Some aspects of online are great but it can also prove a tough road, particularly with higher needs learners. A teacher who can manage a class of 25 children while delivering a lesson isn’t necessarily equipped with the skills to keep even half that many students engaged when everyone’s at home with a myriad of distractions.
Teaching has always broken down into two categories: in person and at home. In the digital age we call those synchronous (when everyone is present and live simultaneously) and asynchronous (when students can proceed through the material at their own pace and on their own schedule). “Live” school has always been mostly synchronous, likely with at least 1-2 hours/day of homework each day. Many high schoolers also have a “free block” where they can do homework while still on campus too.
Problem is, it’s surprisingly tough to be live, on camera, for many hours each day. So online school is more of a mix, with more asynchronous time allocated, particularly for older children. Some districts, like St. Vrain Valley in Longmont,CO are doing an even more complex schedule, with the children on campus for regular classes every other day and online for the rest of the time. Others, like Boulder Valley, are still just online at this point.
For a really popular class, the digital classroom might look like this if they’re using the popular Zoom video conferencing app:
Pure online is a mix, and the video conferencing application Zoom seems to be the most popular tool for synchronous meetings. While adults use Zoom with their cameras on, school Zoom usage seems to be more typically with students joining, muting their microphone, turning off their camera and maybe paying attention to the teacher. In a 60-min class, the first 10-15 minutes might be the teacher explaining a concept or demonstrating an idea, followed by 45 minutes of “work time” where the students can proceed individually or in groups. Imagine that class after class throughout the day, without the in-person breaks of walking between classes, lunch with friends, etc. Fatiguing, for sure.
And, finally, with your granddaughter, I would just ask her to share her experiences. If you can visit, perhaps you could even sit in on one of her classes for a first hand experience. If not, ask her to take a few screenshots (even with her phone) so you can get a better sense of education in 2020. And don’t forget to be supportive of her, not critical of the system. It’s definitely not easy for anyone.
Note: I not only have children both in online high school and online college, but I teach online courses for the University of Denver too. Lots of experience with this new digital world of education.