Are wE-Learning?

By Zack Kyner

If you keep track of time by the number of shocking headlines on the front page of newspapers, you may think it is 2027 by now. But we are still trapped in the enigma that is the year 2020, and school is back in session for most children across the state of Indiana whether they attend virtually, face-to-face or a combination of both.

Indiana’s largest school district Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS), like everyone, has been battling the COVID-19 pandemic, preparing schools and students with necessary sanitation equipment and technology for the school year. A major concern for most parents and teachers in every school has been, “Will the quality of education this school year be the same as last year?”

The unfortunate reality with this question is that no one will know the answer until this school year has concluded. But many students and teachers have opinions on the quality of virtual learning. 

“Trying to learn calculus over a Zoom call,” senior Raymond Wolf said, “has felt like trying to drive a moped on the freeway. It isn’t impossible, but I feel like I’m moving at 30 miles per hour and clutching the handlebars for dear life.”

School life on Zoom is not impossible, as Wolf said, but definitely different. Bonds between student and teacher are slow to connect and the workloads seem larger than ever before. The 15 seconds it used to take to ask a teacher a question can take hours, even days, before the response returns.  

Biomed teacher Mr. Mark Matson said, “Teaching in these new circumstances is strange. You feel more busy, but you help less kids.”

The connection between student and teacher is essential in a successful school year. Moreover, a palpable bond between students and teachers has great effects on the classroom environment. When a student perceives that they are welcomed and wanted in the classroom, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated to pursue excellence in class.

According to Hunter Gehlbach in Harvard’s Educational Psychology journal, students who perceive that their teachers are more supportive have better achievement outcomes on standardized tests.

“There’s definitely a misconnection between students and teachers,” senior Isabelle Lehman said. “I feel like students haven’t gotten to bond with teachers like they used to.”

Microeconomics and government teacher Evan Grotemat agrees.

“Nothing replaces having students in front of you Monday through Friday,” he said. “Nothing replaces that. Having the kids in front of you each day, it’s much easier to build a relationship. You get to know the kids, you get to figure out what works best for them and what doesn’t.”

To best determine what style of learning best suits each student, teachers must assign coursework, quizzes, homework and exams to get a better understanding of where students are academically.

“I think it’s difficult as a teacher to give the same level of difficulty that I have in the past, because I can’t interact with kids like I used to,” math teacher Mr. Evan Roberts said. “So I am struggling to keep the class rigorous like I have tried to in the past.”

Teachers, including Biomed teacher Ms. Christina Ehle-Fails, are making an effort to bring students together academically, although social distancing makes it difficult.

“We are trying to do a lab next week where they are all sitting at their tables by themselves and that takes away from the collaborative teamwork,” she said. “There is no doubt that you build a community in the classroom when we are all here. Everybody is working their tail off to get a quality education, but it is not the same. It’s more answer-driven rather than collaborative teamwork because it is hard to do.”

With collaboration comes teamwork and friendship building, something students are missing out on this year., something Ms. Ehle-Fails calls the “Snider experience.”

“I miss the crazy interactions that we have in class, especially for freshmen who are not truly getting the Snider experience,” she said.

The general consensus is that schooling via the internet is hard. With a combination of eye strain, the inability to connect with teachers, the presence of family and pets in the next room, the fear of deadlines, managing extracurricular activities, planning lab projects and fending off a novel virus, schooling online is the new way of life.

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