Article & Graphic By: Alice Brookston
With distance learning proceeding for over a year now, many teachers have had to adapt their classrooms and courses to fit the online learning format. Starting in late April, many teachers and students will be returning to their classrooms to begin hybrid, in-person learning.
With that being said, teachers have grown accustomed to the online model of school, many of whom have even familiarized themselves further with technology and resources such as Zoom and Google Classroom, although it still does come with its challenges.
Santa Rosa High School’s history teacher, Mr. Horner described some of the changes he has had to make to his classes over the past year, the two primary adaptations being time and technology use.
“The largest change has been the time. I meet on zoom with students for a bit over an hour each week instead of 5 hours, so I have had to pick the items to teach that would explain the larger picture without being able to hit the details as thoroughly. Of course, that’s what historians do all the time. The story is formed by what you leave out; the whole story can never be told. It would take longer than the actual events. The biggest challenge I have is reviewing my notes and eliminating material while still having the story make sense.”
Santa Rosa High School’s science teacher, Mrs. Brawley, has also found herself heavily relying on Google Classroom as a means to help students keep track of their work, a feature of the program which she hopes to continue using in the future.
“Well, I’d say the biggest change I’ve made to my classes and courses is relying very heavily on Google Classroom. I think the biggest adaptation was just learning how to use that in an effective way that was not confusing for students, considering so many teachers are using and posting assignments using that platform differently. Trying to figure out what was the best way to use it I think was the big learning curve at the beginning of the school year, and I definitely plan to keep using it. It’s very effective for helping students keep track of their assignments and we no longer get the excuse that I lost my assignment or didn’t save it because everything through Google is automatically saved, so I think it just completely changed that for students.”
Horner discussed a newfound responsibility being placed on the student to complete their work with honesty and integrity, something which can not be so easily monitored just from online.
“Because of the time crunch, much more responsibility has been put on the student. I can’t review the outside readings as much and have to trust that the students are actually doing the work. I fear that much cheating is happening, and to use the old cliche, students are cheating themselves when they just grab info from the internet summaries or from their friends, and that is harder to assess from a distance.”
For science classes, in particular, having students complete labs has been made much trickier than it normally would be in person. Unfortunately, most of the science department has not had access to their classrooms to help students with demos because the building was being renovated. Because of this, Mrs. Brawley and many other teachers have started using virtual labs in their classes to help explain concepts in real-world situations.
“I’ve been relying solely on virtual labs and interactives for students to do and that is not ideal, but I might still use a few of them when we go back to being in person for things we don’t have equipment for so that’ll definitely be something I carry into the in-person classroom next year.”
While the change from in-person school to online school hasn’t been easy for teachers, staff, or students, the change did allow for many teachers to further familiarize themselves with technology, online resources and informational sites that they may have not previously had the opportunity to fully explore and consider adding to their classes. Horner, when adapting his course for the year, made a note to have technology be more so something to support his teachings rather than something to rely on.
“I realized soon into this that I must stick to my strengths, for I know what works with my students, and so adjusted the technology and the time limits to the course, rather than vice-versa. I think too many people let the tech drive the lesson instead of finding a way to have the tech be the support,” said Horner.
Mrs. Brawley also noted that because there’s less time in classes to cover content, most teachers have had to heavily cut down how many concepts they’re teaching and focus on the most crucial ones.
“We basically tried to narrow down the amount of information that was really most important and most critical for students to learn in these courses and then just really focusing on those. In regards to the pacing of the course, that has been a constant adjustment as the school year has gone on.”
Additionally, Horner made note that Google Classroom and Google Drive are easy outlets to help students organize their work, along with AP Classroom being a useful resource for preparing his AP students for the upcoming test.
“Some programs have been helpful, and I think I will incorporate them into my course when on-campus school returns. Turning in work in google classroom makes it easier for students to organize their workload, though I comment less than I do on printed papers. I am contemplating whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks but I am sure I will continue using at least some of its features. AP classroom for practice tests are an advantage I will continue using. Having access to online texts has been a help for students, and it comes with accessories that I will use more when I have students for more hours per week.”
Mrs. Brawley has mentioned that the biggest challenge this year has just been making sure students do not get too overwhelmed while trying to adapt to this new way of learning.
“Students are really learning independently now, this is almost like high school students operating at a college level and I think that that has been just a huge learning curve for us as teachers and also for the students just to learn how to master or prioritize your workload so that you don’t get overwhelmed.”
Horner noted these positive features, while still having his own criticisms about Zoom. In particular, he mentioned his largest concern and drawback with the program: “Zoom, though it portrays itself as face-to-face, also does not allow for free-flowing conversation, but is better than nothing.”
While switching to distance learning has not been easy for anyone, everyone is seemingly trying to do their best and make do with all of the current chaos in the world. Mrs. Brawley herself has said that, “I just want to do what’s best for the students and right now it’s constantly evolving.”
Although adapting to distance learning has been no easy feat, teachers have made the best with the technology they’ve been given to help education return as normally as it can. As Horner described this, he said that, “Teaching from my classroom, standing, with a whiteboard and historical items behind me lends a touch of normalcy, and hopefully gives the students a feeling of being in school, even when they are propped on a couch or in their room.”
With distance learning seemingly coming to a close by late April for some students, and August for most others, the startling change allowed for all sorts of adaptations, many of which will even be brought back into the classroom when students return to in-person learning on April 26.