by Alyssa Cocchiola, staff writer

OCTOBER 2020 — For some students, an average school day consists of turning on their computer and completing work alone for hours at a time. While learning at home has its benefits for staying safe, there are some challenges that arise from digital learning. 

By Owen Baird

Due to the increase of COVID cases, many students at Bio-Med decided to stay virtual for the first semester. With the hybrid schedule in place, students at school and at home learn the same content and complete the same projects. The only difference is that students attending school get to listen to these instructions and ask for help in person, while virtual students’ education lacks face-to-face interaction.

Not being able to communicate face-to-face can be difficult. Students completing school virtually had similar responses to hybrid students in regards to digital learning. Most people agreed that they had a harder time learning online.

Mady Kohout is a sophomore, and, like many students, is completing school online because she feels that it is unsafe to go in person. When being asked which method of learning she preferred, she responded, “I definitely prefer in-person school over virtual. It’s a lot more engaging, fun and motivating than learning remotely,” 

However, when asked if she would like to stay virutal all year, she said “yes.” A plethora of virtual students share this same opinion. And for some, they feel like they had to choose between feeling comfortable and safe while learning, or feeling uncomfortable while learning in a way that is easier for them to focus.

There are also some benefits from learning online, like being able to work at your own pace. “ I like being able to do certain things on my own schedule,” Kohout added. Some assignments can take longer than intended, and vice versa. One of the biggest advantages that comes from attending school virtually is being able to complete an assignment on your own time, without necessarily having to worry about following the schedule. 

Communication can also be a struggle for online students. If they need help during school and email their teacher, they might not get a response right away. This is because the teacher is most likely teaching a class and is not checking their email. While Zooms are occasionally held for asking and answering questions, they are not held every day, and students online feel like they get less opportunities to ask for help.

“Sometimes it’s harder to communicate since a lot of people don’t answer questions and stuff,” Skyler Earl added. “We don’t have a lot of Zooms this year, so sometimes it’s harder to focus.”

Other students also expressed similar concerns about not being able to focus. However, there are ways students can work to overcome these challenges. Virginia Adams, a 10th grade student,  offered insight on how to keep focused throughout the day, “I would recommend taking very short breaks throughout the day. That way it gives you a minute to reevaluate what work you have to do. Also keeping a list of what work you have to do and cycling through that as your day or week goes on. This helps you prioritize what you have to do.”

Feelings of isolation can also arise from learning digitally. Many 10th grade students mentioned they felt like they were missing out on the high school experience by attending school virtually. While they have a small amount of communication with teachers, they have even less with their peers. 

When being asked about how their first week of school was going, Ren Fejes replied, “It’s very…surreal. Like it’s weird not talking to people most of the time, which can also feel isolating, but at the same time I’m less at risk of Covid, so there’s that too.”

According to the CDC, social isolation can also lead to physical health problems, like increased risk of dementia, heart disease, and stroke. To feel less isolated, and reduce these risks, the University of Chicago recommends things like writing down positive things or memories, smiling, spending time with an animal, joining a class (most likely online), creating a schedule, enjoying nature, or even just talking to people through a phone call or zoom. 

Mrs. Lee, a Guidance Counselor at Bio-Med offered some advice for students feeling isolated due to virtual learning. “I encourage them to reach out as much as they can to friends and family. If you’re feeling isolated, there’s a good chance that one of your loved ones is also feeling the same way. Seeing one another through a screen isn’t ideal, but it at least gives us some sort of interaction! Schedule a dinner date where you and some friends Zoom in and eat dinner together, host a watch party with friends via Netflix, play online games with one another, or just a simple chat. I’ve also suggested offering to help other students in courses via Zoom that you may excel in during Advisory or after school. This could get you to know new people, gives you the satisfaction of helping others, all the while giving you a sense of interaction!!” 

Despite feelings of isolation and a harder time communicating, most virtual students stand by their decision to learn online. They also acknowledge the benefits it has like being safe from COVID, and being able to work at their own pace. 

Even then, some students are overall benefiting from digital learning. For instance, being at home can provide a safe space for students, especially when it comes to things like bullying. When being asked if there were social benefits for kids staying home, Mrs. Mihalik, an 11th grade CCF teacher responded, “As a teacher I 100% acknowledge that there’s kids at home probably not because of any health risks or anything like that. Either because they enjoyed online learning or because it feels like a socially safer environment versus a physical safer environment, and I think that’s a really good opportunity for those kids.”

While many aspects are different, some things have stayed the same compared to last year. When being asked if they were able to focus on their work at home, Ren concluded that, “It’s about the same as in-person learning, which is to say, never. So it has less to do with school itself and more just the state of the world right now.”

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