Online Learning and Teaching in the Age of Coronavirus: “Week 6: The New Normal?”

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sari beth's feminist eagles

Sari Beth Rosenberg, special guest Candice Hoyes, and members of the Feminist Eagles.
Courtesy: Sari Beth Rosenberg

Online Learning and "The New Normal"

I am not sure if other teachers felt the same way, but at the beginning of Week 6, I found myself getting into a rhythm with my new, albeit strange, online school routine. However, by the end of the week, I felt even stronger about how much we were missing not being in the classroom. 

Online learning might have to be “the new normal” for now, but we have to find a way to make sure that virtual learning does not replace the traditional school model. The only elements keeping online learning somewhat cohesive are the human connections we forged in the classroom before the COVID-19 pandemic. Without the time together in real life, online classes would have been virtual insanity from the start.

 

"Without the time together in real life, online classes would have been virtual insanity from the start."

 

Week 6 of online learning was also Week 2 of AP U.S. History exam review. Most of my students were adjusting to the schedule and expectations:

  1. Students complete daily homework assignments by 1pm.
  2. Google Meet classes are scheduled for 1 pm every day. 
  3. We are reviewing each of the five units scheduled to possibly be on the exam for three days.
  4. During the week of the exam (Friday, May 15th), we will review various themes and enduring issues (expansion of American foreign policy, civil liberties, reform movements, women’s rights) in case the College Board uses a thematic lens to assess the students. 

 

online learning during coronavirus

Sari Beth Rosenberg getting ready to teach her AP U.S. History students
from her New York City apartment. Courtesy: Sari Beth Rosenberg

 

At first, I had only planned to have Google Meet class Monday through Thursday. However, some students wanted to review Friday and Saturday as well, so we ended up having class for six days last week.  

 

online learning during coronavirus

Sari Beth Rosenberg teaching a Google Meet class last week. Courtesy: Sari Beth Rosenberg

 

Mindful that some students might not be able to attend the class every day, I recorded all the sessions so they could watch them later. 

This new online routine was starting to feel so “normal” that at some point last week, I realized that I could not even remember the bell schedule at school anymore. (For anyone reading this who is not a teacher, this is akin to forgetting your phone number.) 
 



Photo courtesy: Sari Beth Rosenberg

 

TV pundits and narrators on commercials keep telling us that this coronavirus social distancing world is going to be “the new normal” for a while. So, it felt like I spent most of Week 6 adjusting to “the new normal” of communicating and existing in a virtual world with my students.

As I entered grades from Google Classroom into Skedula/PupilPath (our online gradebook), I emailed students who had not submitted their work by first asking how they were doing and then telling them to upload their work when they were able. Due to the COVID-19 crisis and how it has adversely affected many of my students’ families, I now operate under the assumption that missing work is pandemic- related. 

In class this week, we reviewed the content in Period 4 (1800-1848) and Period 5 (1844-1877). Students analyzed documents and practiced writing thesis arguments to prepare for the exam. Since most of the students turn off their videos in the Google Meet class, it is now my face talking to a grid of avatars and initials. To add a human element to the virtual classroom, I had students write down the color they were feeling in the chat section. I was impressed by some of their fancy color selections (cyan, hunter green and cerulean). I got the color icebreaker idea from the students who lead the feminist club for which I’m the teacher adviser. 

We also decided on the new weekly theme for our APUSH Picks Vol. 5 Spotify playlist: favorite new tunes, or “Fresh Faves.” This might be my favorite APUSH Picks playlist so far.

 

online learning music playlist


Courtesy: Sari Beth Rosenberg

Online Learning & Week 6: The Takeaway

All in all, Week 6 had gone pretty smoothly in terms of executing our review plan and getting most kids to attend class and upload their assignments. Then I saw the April 27th headline: DeVos to states: For extra relief money, create a virtual school or voucher-like program

The U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is using $180 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to create voucher-like grants for parents and to expand virtual education. As much as educators have successfully taken on the herculean task of converting to online learning in record time, I am concerned about the direction of developing more virtual schools in the United States. Federal funds should be allocated to the already existing schools in America. That way we can close the gap created by months of virtual learning once we are back at school. 

 

"As much as educators have successfully taken on the herculean task of converting to online learning in record time, I am concerned about the direction of developing more virtual schools in the United States."

 

Anecdotally, I see the flaws in online learning compared to the traditional classroom model. Recent studies corroborate my observations with hard evidence. For example, a new study shows that students fell further behind after transferring to virtual charter schools.

Based on this current experimentation with online learning, I am sure most parents as well as students understand why nothing can replace the effectiveness of learning in an actual — not a virtual — classroom. In fact, this April 27th New York Times article does an excellent job sharing the many challenges parents are facing with online learning. 

 

"Based on this current experimentation with online learning, I am sure most parents as well as students understand why nothing can replace the effectiveness of learning in an actual — not a virtual — classroom."

 

Then, the online school event that I attended at the end of the week made me miss school even more. Friday was Decision Day 2020 for the senior class. The college guidance counselor organized an online celebration of the students’ college acceptances as well as their achievements in high school. I logged into the event after teaching class. I was immediately overcome with emotion. There were nearly 200 students and staff on the Google Meet. 

Aside from “seeing” my students every day, I had not been in the presence of that many students and school staff in nearly  two months. As each teacher shared some kind sentiment to congratulate the Class of 2020, I noticed that we were all getting choked up. Students had created slides to share with the group. On their pages, they each had a photo wearing their college sweatshirts aside an inspiring quotation. We all turned off our mute buttons and cheered for each kid.

 

"As each teacher shared some kind sentiment to congratulate the Class of 2020, I noticed that we were all getting choked up."

 

At the end of the formal portion of the meeting, students began to communicate with one another and I felt like I was back at school in the hallways. One of the deans jokingly told them all to “be quiet and get to class”… for old time’s sake. One student bemoaned how much he missed being told to go to class and we all laughed. As the boisterous back and forth between students continued, it was a snap back to reality and a reminder of the virtual insanity in which we have been living these past six weeks.

We will all continue doing our best every day, but I know that most of us agree: Google Classroom will never replace learning in an actual classroom. Google Meet will never replicate the important skills students gain from interacting and collaborating with one another in person. Even if we have to change classroom designs to accommodate for social distancing, we need to do our best to enhance — and fund — place-based learning moving forward. Shifting away from the traditional school model would do our young people a major disservice in their educational and emotional growth.