Remote learning needs to be better suited for pandemic


Illustration by Saskia Teterycz

Christopher Vye, Staff Writer

Of all the adjustments the coronavirus outbreak has forced people to make, undoubtedly the biggest change for students has been the transition to remote e-learning. Along with this transition, ETHS administrators have made difficult decisions in order to keep e-learning a fair and equitable system. However, because of this, there becomes much less of a reason for students to care to succeed at it. 

To counteract this while still encouraging learning in a way that feels meaningful, ETHS students’ e-learning assignments should focus more on helping them get through this time by encouraging building community, maintaining well-being and giving value to the sacrifices some people are making.

Currently, students’ e-learning assignments are essentially an attempted continuation of their classes. This makes sense from a teacher and administration standpoint as it prevents students from missing out on content and prepares them for the next year.

Though, because of the sequential nature of many classes, particularly those in the STEM fields, it can be precarious to move students up if they are not sufficiently prepared. Also, ensuring a student receives the necessary level of preparation to move on to a harder class cannot be assured through e-learning because it takes so many resources away from students. It is much harder to learn without seeing teachers daily, getting answers to questions in real time and having access to additional help like A.M. support and study centers.

Speaking from personal experience, it has been challenging to learn and perform at the same level I had been before school shut down as compared to now. Going back to normal would be the only thing that could really get me back to that intensity because my home is not necessarily the best learning environment. Everyday, I am constantly worrying about if I miss a Zoom or I take too long of a break or I am not managing my time well. I can’t say I would be able to feel confident if I was immediately plopped into some of next year’s classes in the fall. What is being done to try and keep students like me engaged has just been a source of stress,  which is not something that should increase in the current circumstances.

There is also a motivation issue. Since ETHS has cancelled second semester finals, switched to a pass or incomplete grading system to abide by state guidelines and awarded all students enrolled in earned honors level courses honors credit, the school has inadvertently created an environment where school is not something that encourages student participation. 

“The new grading system just gives no incentive to do any work,” freshman Isabel Amromin says.

Since test scores, grades and honors credit can provide those valuable means of motivation, it does not make sense to take them away and still expect students to fully engage with class material.

This is not to say that ETHS should bring these things back full throttle to give students more motivation. It would be inequitable and unfair to give students tests and hold their grades ransom when everything else in their world has been turned upside down. Rather, ETHS needs to realize continuing with the curricula and handing out traditional grades does not work. ETHS could  create a revamped version of e-learning more accommodated for a world in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.

Doing something like this would not mean that ETHS doesn’t value students’ education; it would just change the way people think about continuing school in the current world. Because it cannot be guaranteed students are truly engaged while learning at home, content essential for future success that is being relegated to remote learning is going to have to be taught again anyway. It does not make sense to teach it now if students cannot be in a classroom environment where they are the most focused and ready to learn.

“I still feel like the content being taught for e-learning is relevant, but we will definitely need something like a crash course for our classes when we come back because not all students are fully engaging with e-learning,” says sophomore Jack Eberle.

If this is what students feel is going to be needed, then continuing with e-learning as it is will end up proving to have been all for nothing or very little.

Further, a declaration made by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) in the high school section of their Remote Learning Recommendations document illustrates that the highest governing body of schools in the state believes that it is unfair to persist with learning new things during this pandemic. “[Students] Cannot be required to master and cannot be penalized for failure to master the new content,” according to the recommendations. 

If ETHS does align with ISBE’s stances and is committed to maintaining an equitable remote learning environment, then new content would not be covered as much during e-learning and would instead be covered more in-depth whenever students return. 

But then, what would e-learning entail? 

Fortunately, there is a valuable role school can play in student’s lives during a pandemic. From just taking a look at television or internet news, a sentiment that is often repeated is how unprecedented the coronavirus pandemic is. People are scared of what the future may hold, stressed from having to stay at home all the time and left without outlets to calm them down due to worldwide cancellations.

This is where school can step in. School plays a major part of every student’s day not only in their education but as a part of their life. It provides a routine, a place to talk to people, a place to discover interests and passions and a place where students can feel safe. Because of everything that is going on in the world right now, it is less important that students continue following their school’s curricula and more important that e-learning assignments keep students morale high, and replicates more of the aspects of school just mentioned.

In order to do this well, things like journal entries, art projects, creative writing, reading, watching the news or talking to relatives could be primarily what e-learning is. Moving forward in classes and introducing new concepts could still be done, although students would need to be assured that they will come back to them before moving forward to prepare them well and keep them calm.

Assignments like the ones listed above are not only low-stress but stress reducing, which would help curb any anxiety the coronavirus has caused. It is also more likely students would feel good about doing these and not like there is no point to them. Watching the news would help students feel more informed and assured about where this situation is going, and talking to relatives would help students connect with their loved ones and show them that they care about them and their health during this time. The list goes on.

Some teachers have already begun to experiment with giving out work like this, which is great. Though at the same time, other teachers who are still trying to finish their curricula fully are continuing to be a cause of anxiety for students who worry what will happen if they fail to master it.

A lot of students are also having to take on new and unforeseen roles in their own and their families lives right now. For example, there are students whose parents are essential workers and students who live with their grandparents or people otherwise considered immunocompromised. For these students, they may have to do things they have never done before like grocery shopping, taking care of their homes and having to take care of younger siblings for whole days. Figuring out new content through e-learning assignments on top of this isn’t really providing anything of value to them; it is just an extra burden.

These new experiences that some students are having are also valuable learning experiences, and should not be disregarded just because they do not fall in line with what someone would typically expect from school. More students would probably end up saying they learned more from making a meal for their siblings than watching a video and filling out a google form.

For people whose situations are more manageable, an underlying desire to try and make things better right now would also provide students with valuable motivation to do these more coronavirus-centric assignments.

“I do wish that instead of doing schoolwork we could be doing something that would actually help the situation. Like instead of gym homework, we wrote an encouraging note to a healthcare worker everyday,” senior Dar Anderson says.

If keeping students engaged is the main pursuit of e-learning, assigning work more centered around improving current circumstances would do just that because it is something a lot more students would actually want to do. 

Fortunately, there is no single state or nationally sanctioned model dictating how remote learning must look, giving schools the freedom to determine what works best for them. This means ETHS has the authority to make their model of e-learning better suited for a world in the midst of a pandemic that is affecting everyone everywhere. Truly, if e-learning is done in a thoughtful way, schools like ETHS can be an asset in helping people everywhere get through this time.