In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, schools all across the country have instated a new program for students and teachers alike that will help keep the school year going strong. This new program, called distance learning, has been used as an outlet for teachers to engage with students online, assigning homework and assessments on the school’s website. The main question everyone is asking is, “Will distance learning be the best possible method to engage students in the virtual classroom?”
For teachers, distance learning has been a completely different ball game. There are no more attendance sheets, smartboards and desks filled with students eager to learn. Instead, students are emailed assignments every rotation week, whether it is homework, discussion groups or even assessments. Many teachers have been able to adapt to the new “normal,” but is this new “normal” effective? High School Math Teacher and Ninth Grade Girls Chair Ashley Stainback said, “I think distance learning is the best option during this time of shelter at home. It allows us to continue teaching and learning but also keeps us safe. It is definitely not a long-term option to replace learning in a classroom environment. Nothing beats hands-on, face-to-face instruction.” When asked about her favorite part of distance learning, Stainback said, “The best part of distance learning and the shelter-at-home mandate is the gift of time with family. We all have very busy schedules and lives but the last four and a half weeks of distance learning for not only Wesleyan, but colleges as well, has allowed us to slow down and spend more time together as a family. There is no stress to get anywhere. Just more time to hang out and enjoy being together.” When asked about the worst part of distance learning, Stainback said, “The worst part of distance learning is not being able to see my students and fellow faculty on daily basis. I miss seeing everyone’s smiling faces and hearing the laughter in the classrooms and hallways of Wesleyan.”
High School Bible Teacher and Bible Department Chair Glenn Archer agreed with Stainback’s comments on how distance learning has allowed teachers to spend more quality time with their families during this hectic time. Archer said, “For me, I have enjoyed being at home with my wife and kids Andy (’16) and Whitney (‘17). We really have enjoyed the days together. It has been nice to work in a t-shirt and shorts every day.” When asked about the worst part of distance learning, Archer also agreed with Stainback, saying, “The worst part of the distance learning model is not having a regular face-to-face interaction with my peers and all the students. I do miss that a lot.” When asked if distance learning is the best substitute for the classroom, Archer said, “In some ways, yes, the distance learning model can be a ‘substitute’ for the classroom. But I feel like it is a temporary substitute at best for most of us. Students and teachers crave and operate best when we are together in community. I do believe the manner in which Wesleyan has rolled out our distance learning has been excellent, but all of us would trade that in to be back on campus tomorrow.”
For many students, distance learning has also been a change of environment, as well as a change of pace with classes separated into different days. Students are able to contact their teachers by using programs such as Microsoft Teams to discuss future assignments and important dates for assessments. This new learning style has also been a change of pace for most students. Senior Lizzy Stainback said, “Distance learning has given me a little more flexibility with my classes and when I do my work, so school weeks can be less stressful. But that being said, when test and essays are given, they seem to be at the same time. It has been nice to separate my work and take breaks, so I do not get overwhelmed.” With this change of pace, students are given more time to just relax and take a break from work. Junior Paige Wyatt said, “The best thing about distance learning for me has been sleeping in every day.” Wyatt also added, “The worst part about it is not being able to see everybody. Also it was a little hard to adjust at first, but now I have gotten the hang of it.” When asked if distance learning is the best substitute to the classroom, Wyatt said, “I think that the way Wesleyan is doing distance learning is working pretty well. I would rather be at school, but the way they have it set up is not too bad.”
Distance learning has been a major curveball that has changed the way that students are taught day in and day out. Despite this new environment, teachers are determined to bring the same energy to the computer as they would in the classroom. With all its ups and downs, there is still hope that sometime in the future, students and teachers will be able to go back to the way things used to be. Right now, distance learning seems to be the best solution for educating students from the comfort of their home, while maintaining the heart and soul of the classroom.