What Justice HS Students Are Really Thinking About Online Learning

School News
June 09, 2020

The following is an article by Justice High student Katie Sponaugle, who serves as Lifestyles editor of the school’s student newspaper, The Verdict, that was originally published on May 23.

What Students Are Really Thinking About Online Learning

When Gov. Ralph Northam closed all Virginia schools for the rest of the academic school year due to the spread of the coronavirus, it came as a shock to many Virginia residents. Since then, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has decided to move towards online virtual learning to complete the school year. 

The new learning schedule and technology encountered many obstacles, causing frustration for students, parents, and staff. During its first week of use, Blackboard Collaborate, the program used for live teacher instruction, faced technical issues that resulted in a temporary pause in distance learning. However, after these issues were resolved, distance learning was able resume with little interruption. 

At Justice, students follow a schedule where classes meet once a week for a 45-minute synchronous face-to-face online session. Teachers have established office hours where they are available to answer questions or provide extra assistance. In addition to synchronous learning, students are also expected to work on independent or collaborative assignments, watch pre-recorded lessons, participate in online discussions, and complete other assignments posted online through programs like Blackboard or Google Classroom.

Many students agree that the weekly synchronous online lessons are important in keeping them connected to their teachers. “I think the synchronous 45-minute learning sessions are beneficial as they allow us to check in with our teachers. Teachers are able to directly answer questions; a helpful guide that is not available through asynchronous learning,” said sophomore Sara Kaufman.

Senior Zara Green also believes that the online face-to-face sessions are important, as it allows teachers to provide clarification on certain assignments, but also says that “Forty-five minutes is a little long and many of my classes get out early.”

Both Green and Kaufman have found that they are feeling less stressed and have significantly lighter workloads than they did prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“For me, [the workload] is a lot less. I think partly because it’s difficult to assign tests and essays given the online format, but also because I am a senior, so this is the time of year where we’d have less work to do anyways. Some of my younger friends have a lot more work than I do,” said Green, who also expressed her dismay about losing the final part of her senior year. “I miss seeing all my friends and teachers, and not being able to go to any games or other events.”

Green, along with many of her senior classmates, would have been spending the majority of her class time preparing for International Baccalaureate (IB) exams; however, IB has since announced that May 2020 examinations will no longer be held. 

While many students agree that the amount of individual or collaborative work has decreased, some have noted some issues regarding distance learning.

“I am less motivated to do my work because I don’t get the reward of seeing my friends and teachers in class,” said Green. “I enjoy working at my own pace because it allows me to get things done at a time that is convenient for me. At the same time, the lack of structure makes it difficult to not procrastinate because I am the one giving myself deadlines. I’ve been able to learn new material, but nowhere near as much as I would have in school.”
Kaufman also stated that she enjoyed the freedom of being away from the rigidity of a school schedule, but often found herself losing focus and becoming unmotivated to complete assignments. 

“If I implemented a more school-like structure in my daily schedule, I would be able to get more work completed,” said Kaufman. “While I understand that teachers are trying their best to create educational environments, we sometimes struggle to understand what they’re saying due to internet issues.” 

Many students across the globe are struggling to adapt to the new “normal” and the completion of the school year while confined to their homes. Green decides to look on the bright side of things, saying that one of the few things she enjoys about distance learning is “going to class in my pajamas."