What We Can Learn from Remote Learning

Aspects of remote learning that students and teachers would likely implement during in-person school.

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It’s no secret that remote learning has some major disadvantages: a decline in mental health, Zoom fatigue, and lack of socialization are just a few of the many pandemic-related pressures students carry on their shoulders on top of the rigorous academic courses they take. While our current situation is far from ideal, many have felt that Stuyvesant has also seen a few positive changes over the past year, such as a later start time and the alternating split schedule, in which the usual ten period schedule is split between two days. Now, with the arrival of the coronavirus vaccine and the idea of in-person learning returning next school year, many are beginning to wonder whether these arguably beneficial adjustments could be implemented for a regular school year.

Many people are in favor of the new 9:10 a.m. starting time, instead of the usual 8:00 a.m. This extra hour is invaluable to students who may spend that free time sleeping and catching up on school work. “I would hope that schools make a shift to start later in the day because I haven't woken up earlier than 8 a.m. in months. I don't know why they make students go to class so early, especially when people have a lengthy commute,” sophomore Jady Chen wrote in an e-mail interview.

Junior Aleena Sage shares similar sentiments about the joys of waking up later than they normally would during in-person classes. “I’ll miss being able to go to classes from the comfort of my own home and not having to commute,” she said.

Additionally, Chen expressed her desire to see the passing time between classes extended. “I seriously do not understand why Stuyvesant makes the passing period barely five minutes when people have to rush up the stairs to the tenth floor, or need to use the bathroom, or need to grab their water bottle from their locker,” she wrote. The extra time provided during online learning has allowed her to get a snack, take a breather from her laptop, and recharge before her next class.

However, some adjustments have been much more drastic than simply pushing the starting time for classes or lengthening breaks. Chief among these is the novel alternation between five-period schedules. As students were initially introduced to this new schedule, some found it much easier to pace their schoolwork. “I really appreciate having half my classes every other day. I'm starting to forget how it was possible to have ten periods each day, and have to get homework from all classes done every day. It's nice to only worry about half my classes at a time,” junior Celina Huynh said in an e-mail interview.

The revised schedule also boosts students’ learning capabilities. Sophomore Calvin Wang noted in an e-mail interview that the new schedule allowed for a better quality of learning. “By splitting a day into two halves, there’s more structure and spacing with work assignments,” he said. At first glance, it may have seemed that the change would diminish students’ learning, but it gave many students more time to process what they learned in class. Chen agreed, and hopes that this change will remain even when school moves back into in-person learning. “This means that I have more personal time and that I can spread out my responsibilities accordingly,” she wrote. “Students have other things to do; they have their own lives to live.”

While some may think that sweeping changes would be unfeasible to enact, Chen disagreed. “I think as a school we've already adapted to the 1-5 and 6-10 period schedule [...] I actually think it wouldn't be so far-fetched for the administration to consider the alternating period schedule for the future,” she wrote. But, she noted that there are limits, and the extension of the passing time would be much more difficult. “I think it's a little less feasible to get the administration on board simply because the 10 minutes really do add up,” she stated. That would mean 90 minutes would be spent just for passing, and she acknowledges this problem. However, she would still appreciate having more than five minutes for passing.

Teachers have also recognized some aspects of remote learning that can be transferred to an actual classroom. Mathematics teacher Gary Rubinstein has been enjoying the use of online applications such as DeltaMath, a site where students can practice and learn various math concepts. Since DeltaMath gives him a thorough understanding of what percent of students understand a concept, Rubinstein hopes to utilize this newfound tool beyond remote learning. “I’ll definitely incorporate DeltaMath in the future, so that, maybe in a class period, maybe I’ll do eight or ten [practice] questions, so they can just have their phones kinda near them, and then they can type in their answers, so I could get feedback right away,” Rubinstein explained. In the past, he has not utilized technology in the classroom, but after creating these online DeltaMath lessons, he hopes to reuse them both for classwork and homework.

Similarly, Mandarin teacher Hairong Zhang said that she intends to continue using Google Classroom to share learning resources and assign homework. “Not only because it is more environmentally-friendly than the actual worksheet, but also for the reason that students can still have access to the materials after class and even after they finish the course,” she explained. Another practice that Zhang hopes to adopt is a more project-based curriculum. This allows for students to be more engaged in the class by allowing them to work with their peers, be more creative, and apply their skills to real life scenarios.

Besides using Google Classroom, Zhang intends to continue utilizing platforms such as Peardeck, which allows her to see student answers instantly and provide individual feedback. In addition, she has been having “side talks” in class, where she will enter breakout rooms to chat with students, allowing them to communicate better. “These side talks establish the connection between teachers and the students when we don’t have in-person communications,” she said. She aims to build and maintain individual connections with her students during both remote and in-person classes.

Besides new teaching strategies, remote learning has also given students and teachers a newfound appreciation for in-school learning, and many are eager to return. “I am looking forward to real, human interaction. It's not so easy to make new friends or to create meaningful relationships with your teachers online,” Chen said.

Zhang expressed similar sentiments: “I miss those talks in the hallway, in the office, before the class, and after the class, which help me to know my students more.”

Rubinstein has also noticed the impact of remote learning on students, especially in breakout rooms. “In my regular class, in-person, people really take group work really seriously [...] So, I figured in a pandemic, that would be everyone’s favorite part, when you go into groups. And I find that one-third to one-half of the students are not really actively engaged in the group work.” Returning back to in-person learning will mean more intimate bonds not only between teachers and students, but also between student and student.

Additionally, Zhang’s experiences in remote learning has further taught her that she could take her opportunity as a teacher to help students learn life skills, such as time and stress management. “I become more and more determined that the mental health of students is the key to successful learning,” Zhang said. “I need to be the anchor that encourages and cheers students up when they feel sad and overwhelmed.” Her emphasis on students’ happiness has pushed her to grow as a teacher and search for ways to help her students.

It’s clear that students and teachers have tried their best to adapt to remote learning, and some have found some aspects of it to be beneficial. Not only has implementing technology in the classroom or lengthening the time between classes made learning more effective and manageable, but remote learning has also allowed students and teachers to reflect on ways to create a school environment better suited for their education and health. “Remote learning taught me that what schools provide students with is more than just knowledge and skills, but also a community where students can socialize, support, and learn from each other,” Zhang said. The possibility of these new techniques being implemented in reality is an exciting prospect for teachers and students alike.