Online Learning Review


Margaret Sprigg-Dudley, Contributor, '22

This past year has tested our ability to adapt and learn as we go. As we entered online school back in March, we had no idea what the next school year would look like or how we’d have to change our lives. Here we are, back at school, still living in a pandemic. Schools around the nation are doing their fall semester differently; schools around the city are doing their fall semester differently. Cincinnati Public started out completely remote, Oak Hills is hybrid, and Country Day has chosen to have both online students and in person students in the same classroom. CCD is trying to offer the best and safest option of course, but everything is an adjustment. As expected, this method is not perfect and provides difficulties for both students and faculty alike. I, an in-person student, was online for one day and was surprised to find how much harder it was to engage with the class than it was when we were all online. However, I only did online school for one day while most online students have committed for a full semester. To find out more, I have interviewed one full-time online student and one teacher.

Kirstin Hayes is a Junior at Country Day and is spending the semester online. For her, hearing the teachers is usually not much of a problem unless they walk away from the camera. However, hearing students in the class is a different story: “I really can’t hear the other students when they answer or ask questions and things like that, but a lot of my teachers repeat what they say and that’s really helpful. I don’t think that it influences my learning that much if the teacher repeats what was said, but if they don’t, I can get lost really quickly.” Seeing what’s going on in class can also be a struggle. “I can’t [see what teachers have handwritten on the board] but I don’t think I’ve ever said that. Teachers pretty regularly share their screens which I’m really grateful for.”

Her class participation has changed as well: “I really don’t participate unless I’m called upon, which is a bit different for me especially in classes like English and History. The problem is that I usually know the answer but I’m too worried that I’m going to cut someone off because I couldn’t hear that they were already speaking.” How often she gets called on “varies depending on the class. I get called on a lot in my studio theater class, but in other classes not that much.”

Overall, online learning is both good and bad: “I have differing thoughts because there are some days where I love it, but other days where I really miss being at school. Maybe the most frustrating thing is that I don’t have the same determination to do my work that I had when I was in-person. I really miss my friends and seeing them in school every day. I also miss having to actually get ready to go somewhere.”

To learn more about the experience on the other side of the screen, I interviewed a faculty member. Dr. Shaull is an upper school English teacher and advisor who, like all the faculty, is teaching online students and in-person students at the same time. Most of her classes have two or three online students. For her, one of the biggest challenges is communicating with online students and ensuring that both groups hear what they need to hear: “We want to make sure that they can hear us so we’re doing a lot of repeating things said by students in the room so that the audio gets picked up, but there’s so many little pieces of communication that happen naturally in one mode. Even if we’re all remote, that makes it easier for us all to be on the same wavelength than a mix.” Besides making sure that students can hear, she’s had to adapt her teaching so that both sets of students can see what’s going on: “I have had to figure out: well, how do I write things on the board? I don’t want to write with a marker because then I’m going to have to figure out how to either get a good camera view of the screen or also type things into the chat so that the remote students can see it. What I have more or less ended up with is that I can project a document. … I have found that if I’ve got my screen extended, if I put up a word document or a PowerPoint or something and type, then I can keep the screen extended and keep the teams call up in front of me. I would prefer to use my stylus and write but then I have to be in duplicate and I can’t see the remote students.”

In addition, teachers must now keep track two sets of students: “I’ve got my screen, I’ve got a projector screen, I’m keeping an eye on the kids in the classroom for raised hands, and depending on what I am showing on the projector I may or may not need to have that duplicated on my own screen.” Sometimes students are visible on the screen, “But even then, it’s hard to remind myself not only to keep my eyes on the student in the room but also to make sure I’m glancing down to see if somebody has typed something or if somebody on the screen is raising their hand.”

As far as changes go, her perfect setup would involve the ability to move around the room while still being able to know when an online student has a question and allowing the online students to both hear and see her. It would also help if teams notifications were different: “I have my phone turned off so I’m not hearing other notifications and I know some teachers are keeping their phones turned on so they will hear chat notification from students in class. All I see often is the little blinking teams icon at the bottom and I don’t know if that is a student in my class or somebody just trying to get a hold of me for something else unless I actually go into the window and check. So yeah, it’s sort of those two pieces: notifications that would make it easier to track just what’s going on in the class and be able to shut out the rest of what teams wants to do.”

Finally, learning to adapt and change as the year goes one is an essential part of the process: “There have just been a lot of minor adjustments that have kind of come together piecemeal and unfortunately there’s days where I don’t do a very good job because I’m trying something new and I haven’t thought of one of the bugs in that system yet. But, I think that, at this point, we’re almost halfway through the first quarter and I feel like I’ve finally got a pretty good system that is mostly allowing me to do the best that I can by both sets of students. There’s a lot of communication among faculty – because we’re all concerned about this – to make sure that we’re sharing our ideas so that when somebody figures something out, that can be used by a lot of people. It’s been a lot of trial and error and de-briefing with other faculty and from there, and just looking for the optimum communication set-up.”

These are just two stories out of many. This year is one like no other; we are getting a truly unique high school experience. Still, the year has just begun, there are many opportunities for change. Who knows where the world may go from here.