The Failures of Remote Learning

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Issue 9, Volume 111

By Jacky Chen 

As the prospect of a working, widely available coronavirus vaccine draws to reality, the world grows ecstatic at the thought of it. What I am most excited about, along with seeing my friends, is being able to put remote learning behind me. Having already spent countless hours during my freshman and sophomore years adjusting to the Stuyvesant curriculum, it has not been easy adjusting to online learning. This year’s round of required Zoom meetings has helped me learn more than I did the first iteration of remote instruction, but there could still be improvements. I would go as far as to say that learning from home will always be inferior to learning at school, but we could work to make remote learning as rewarding as it can possibly be in preparation for another crisis down the line.

In our advertisement-filled online world, there are distractions everywhere. While we are in our Zoom meetings, there are countless activities to get lost in. YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Reddit, DiscordI would argue it is impossible to not be drifted away by other online leisures without rules against phone usage during class. But with students at home, how could a teacher ever enforce such rules? Perhaps parents could act as enforcers, but many parents do not have time to watch over a student constantly.

I am fortunate enough that my home situation is stable. However, many students in New York City cannot say the same. For example, many are expected to do chores in the house or watch over younger siblings. Even worse, many students may live in an abusive household that actively inhibits learning. Arguably an even more prevalent issue is that online learning rests entirely on the students’ and teachers’ Internet connections. Last year’s AP tests were a disaster, as many students complained about their Internet cutting off in the middle of the test. My own Wi-Fi once got cut off for an entire two days, and I would have missed school in that time had I not been able to borrow my neighbor’s. Finally, the connection that students have with teachers online is not as strong as in school. It has been very hard for me and a couple of classmates to reach our pre-calculus teacher due to availability issues, which is a struggle because we are having a hard time in the class. The reality of the Internet is that not only are there massive discrepancies in the quality of Wi-Fi that students are connected to, but even the best of Internet plans can be unpredictable.

While many students have noted the ease of online learning, thinking it is easier than traditional school, I cannot wait to go back to Stuyvesant, even if I have to take the train again. A digitalized world brings countless opportunities, but it could never replace core attributes of the human experience. Just as nothing online could replace a peaceful walk outdoors, there is no way remote learning could replace traditional in-person lectures.

Though nothing can top the schooling in a traditional classroom, we cannot deny the necessity of online education. The coronavirus demanded that we respond properly by staying home, and we must continue to use this format for future crises. One improvement I would add is a shift away from online examinations. In any given test during remote learning, there are too many variables such as potential cheating and Internet shortage to account for. I have found projects in courses such as computer science much more invigorating. More project-based learning prepares students for the real world and alleviates stress from having to memorize too many subjects. Personally, in both my sophomore and junior years, the assignments that have stimulated my mind in the best way have been computer science projects. Projects like these put students hard at work while leaving them proud of the finished product. In recent years, we have already started discussing how testing only incentivizes students to pass a test, putting immense stress on students to pass and teachers to prove their worth. Testing is doubly ineffective online, so why do we try to keep this archaic method around? Another improvement would be to have more preparations in place in case of connection failures. Some of my teachers take pictures of their lectures or post slides, and I believe that all teachers should be required to do so.

With all that I have said, I find it ironic how in March, I thought remote learning would be easier and more relaxing. Instead, it has given me more stress and had me learning less. But I now appreciate the traditional classroom as an area isolated from distractions from our mobile phones to focus on our potential. As much as I groan, because remote learning is absolutely needed, I believe we should better the experience and use it as a progressive tool to experiment with new learning methods. Perhaps this improvement can happen with the next iteration of online schooling, but I hope that won’t come anytime soon