It was June 2020. I was finishing ninth grade, which turned out to be the first year of several of my pandemic education.
I was in a class (which means online in my bedroom) and my teacher insisted we turn on our cameras. “I’d rather not be teaching to a bunch of icons,” he said. I, like many of my peers, did not want to turn on my camera for what seemed to be the obvious reason: I didn’t feel like it (a sentiment that pervaded many activities during the pandemic). However, once my teacher mandated our on-screen presence, I considered what it must be like to have to talk to profile pictures instead of online faces with the myriad of expressions they hold.
We were guinea pig online students and our teachers were guinea pig online instructors. The basic structure of schooling that has persisted mostly unchanged for hundreds of years was all I knew until 9th grade. Teachers in front, presenting material using different mediums, students at desks utilizing different techniques to learn that material. In a blink of an eye, the walls of my classrooms became the perimeter of my laptop screen and “end call” was the door we loved to bolt through at the end of class.
Cyber schooling and hybrid teaching are here to stay in some form in this new future of education. Our way of learning will now incorporate much more digital content and self-paced learning at the very least to augment in-person instruction. Having been the recipient of this nascent way of teaching, I would like to offer some suggestions to virtual teachers from a student’s perspective:
1. Facilitate student interaction: In one of my classes, my teacher had us break with a game of Mafia - digitally! We were required to keep our cameras on and had to look innocent as the players sought out the guilty. It felt like the first real eye contact I had since the beginning of pandemic school. I found myself smiling and sharing a connection through a screen - something I never imagined could be possible when we were all physically so far apart. More commonly used are breakout rooms, where students are separated into groups and work on projects and assignments. In the digital world, this is as close as it gets to small group learning. It’s not ideal student bonding but alleviates the loneliness of online schooling.
2. Avoid becoming a detective. Let’s face it. Online academic dishonesty is rampant and solutions are difficult. Merely turning a blind eye is the equivalent to taking a standardized test without any proctors – cheating is inevitable. My online teachers had different methods for coping with this. Some merely required a camera, others had students take pictures of their workspace to ensure there were not any notes around, and others simply made tests open note. Ask your schools for help! My school uses LanSchool - a program that monitored student’s activities, only accessible for laptops distributed by the school. In combination with on-camera attendance, it can alleviate much of the online cheating and allow teachers to do what they do best– teach!
3. Create one on one “office hours” throughout the day. One of the most daunting aspect of pandemic schooling for me was the loss of easy access to my teachers. I missed walking up to their desks to show them a math problem or ask questions that may be as simple as a clarification for an assignment– we all took these small conveniences for granted. Many students struggle with performance anxiety and private conversations with teachers are instrumental and often necessary. Creating small periods of one to one time during the day for a student and their teacher allows for real time interaction without the intimidation of public speaking.
The future of education is exciting and scary all at once with the blending of traditional in-person education with evolving digital content and methods to deliver that material. Ultimately it is these small teaching nuances that will act as the nuts and bolts to fortify this new education model.
Kaveena Ponamgi is a senior at Central Bucks East High School.