Learning in COVID-19: The challenges of going remote for both students and teachers

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Thursday, Sept. 10, marked the first day of classes at Kingswood Oxford School for the 2020-2021 academic year. The school is offering in-person learning and remote learning for the first quarter. While many students and teachers are returning to campus for their classes, some have chosen to learn remotely for the first quarter of the school year because of concerns related to the coronavirus.

In the spring of 2020, the school offered only remote learning, moving the entire community online. With the school now offering in-person learning and remote learning simultaneously, Head of the Upper School Dan Gleason thinks that teachers and students will need to adjust a lot in order to make the online learning experience better. “Now we’re combining those two, so there’s a real learning curve,” he said.

Most of the issues that remote learners are experiencing are audio problems. Junior Samhita Kashyap, who is learning remotely, said that audio problems have made it slightly harder for her to participate in class. “At times, I have to make sure no one else is talking so I can speak up,” she said. “Otherwise, I will get cut off so it does become more difficult to participate.” 

Junior Kaiwen Guo is also experiencing audio problems, which have made it difficult for him to follow along in some of his classes. In addition, he said that internet problems have made sound quality choppier and harder for him to hear what is being said. “We are very far apart, and the internet connection is unstable sometimes,” he said. “It is hard to hear what they are saying,” he said, referring to his classmates. 

After the first week of school, Dr. Gleason sent a survey to the remote learners regarding audio, visual, and wifi problems. The data he collected was shared with teachers so they could understand their students’ problems and share ideas about what was working well. “We had some cases where students would report, ‘This class is easy for me to understand and hear everything and this class is not,’” Dr. Gleason said. “So then that would allow the teacher who’s in the sort of problematic class to talk to the other teachers. ‘Hey what are you doing in this class that works well for your students? How are you setting up your tech so that it works so well for them?’ We’ve been having those conversations based on the data.”

Based on the feedback Dr. Gleason has received and his observations, he is encouraging teachers to remind their students to speak louder to help remote students hear better. “Usually it seems to be more often an issue with the students,” he said, “because teachers are used to projecting their voices, and sometimes students need to be reminded.”

Kaiwen is learning remotely from his hometown of Shanghai, which has a 12 hour time difference. He has been trying to attend all of his classes, regardless of how late at night or how early in the morning it is. “I strongly prefer live classes over the recorded class, because I think attendance is crucial,” he said. “I try to attend every class, despite the time difference.”

There are also some teachers who have chosen to teach online. Although it wasn’t an easy decision to make, Chinese teacher Naogan Ma said that she had to do the right thing for the safety of her and her family. Like the remote learners, she is having trouble hearing her in-person students clearly. “I don’t want to ask them to repeat themselves to the point that I start feeling nobody wants to hear, ‘I can’t hear you,’ or ‘Please say it again,” she said. 

Mrs. Ma is worried that her students are not getting the best classroom experience because of the technical difficulties and audio issues that she is experiencing. “It just becomes a concern for me,” she said. “It’s not just one class. It is not one day. It’s practically every class I teach every day.”

In order to improve the classroom experience, Mrs. Ma has been keeping an open mind. She has been in contact with her co-teachers and students for suggestions about what is working well and what isn’t. “I think the key is to keep an open mind and just keep looking,” she said, “and keep hoping to improve. If we keep the communication between my co-teachers, as students, and myself, it will slowly get better.”

Despite the technical issues that come with remote learning, Samhita thinks that there are some benefits of learning at home. “I don’t have to wake up early, which I really enjoy,” she said.

As teachers and students alike are learning how to make the remote learning and teaching experience better, Dr. Gleason thinks that remote learning will only improve with what the teachers and students are learning from feedback. “We have wonderful technology coordinators here who helped out a lot of faculty and are offering feedback and advice,” Dr. Gleason said. “This will only get better as the teachers are learning and getting used to this.” 

Dr. Gleason feels that the community has already made significant progress in helping remote learners to have a better learning experience. “There is always more to learn, always improvements to be made, but teachers and students have done a great job so far,” he said. “We have learned so much in just our first two weeks.” 

Remote learning is also available for in-person students and teachers who might feel sick in order to make sure that everyone is safe and healthy. However, it does not serve as a convenient alternative for in-person learners. “We don’t want it to be just a convenience for in-person students where they say, ‘Oh, you know, I’m feeling tired today. I’m not sick, but I just would rather not go to school. I’m just going to be remote and let everyone know at the last second,” Dr. Gleason said. “That’s really not what remote learning is. It’s really a very thoughtful choice people are making for medical reasons.” 

The KO community is certainly looking forward to welcoming all of the remote students and teachers back on campus, whenever it is safe to do so, and whenever they feel safe and comfortable to return.