When Hands-on Becomes Cams On

A look at how classes that required in-person interaction are working virtually.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Ying Chen

“Turn and talk,” your teacher begins as the bell rings.

Such an instance is one of the many interactions that have become foreign to students during remote learning. Breakout rooms and shared Google Docs seem to replace in-person interactions in many classes. Classes that have traditionally required more hands-on learning and collaboration between students, such as chorus, drafting, band, and other electives, are finding different ways to cope with the lack of interaction in virtual learning. Many students who have taken these classes both in-person and remotely have found notable contrasts.

For junior Ian Zaman, the change from in-person chorus to virtual chorus has been difficult. “Chorus did involve a lot of interaction since we had to sing together and work with one another to do so,” Zaman explained. As a result, chorus class looks completely different when done virtually. “Now we’re learning music theory and doing virtual recordings, which is a lot harder because you don’t have a chorus to back you up,” Zaman said. While he does like the addition of music theory, Zaman expressed that he “feels it’s not really what chorus is about.”

Music Coordinator Liliya Shamazov, on the other hand, explained that she feels that the change in curriculum is actually beneficial for her students. “We are spending time building other valuable musical skills and exploring topics we normally do not have time for. As a result, my students will be much stronger musicians when we return to live instruction,” she said. Shamazov also believes that virtual learning has given students the advantage of doing work on their own time, which wasn’t possible during in-person learning. “Now, after learning to make rehearsal tracks, students are able to learn and review music at their own pace,” Shamazov stated.

Band, too, has found new methods of integrating online performance into the class. Before the switch to online school, members of the Stuyvesant band were able to play their instruments together, listening to each other to ensure synchronization. This seemingly simple task is now nearly impossible to accomplish over Zoom. Instead of performing in class, band students send in recordings of themselves playing their parts of the score. These recordings then get synched to each other to create a virtual video performance. “The vibe of the class has changed because instead of trying to synchronize our parts in real time and in person, we now have to record our parts individually and try to upload our recordings,” senior Serena Chan expressed.

Many students, like senior Angus Chen, prefer this model, as it’s less nerve-wracking than performing live. “I think recording takes away from the interactive aspect of the band, but it’s a lot more relaxed when you don’t have to play live,” Chen said.

Senior Sunny Bok also shared her preference for virtual band. “It’s more organized,” she explained.

Unlike music, 10-tech courses, which are mandatory classes for students to graduate with a Stuyvesant diploma and include ceramics, woodworking, and painting, have not adapted with as positive a response to the remote environment. Ceramics, for example, requires access to specific materials, like a kiln, and demonstrations. Senior Kelly Guo is disappointed with the virtual shift, as she feels that the class’s potential has been restricted. “We couldn’t truly experience the class,” Guo explained. The lack of materials, student interaction, and teacher feedback have left some students feeling unmotivated and lost. “A lot of students are behind on assignments because they were either having trouble getting materials or just losing motivation overall,” Guo described.

Guo shared similar sentiments about her painting class, which is taught by art teacher William Wrigley; the lack of in-person interactions is particularly difficult for seniors who need Wrigley’s assistance with their college art portfolios.

Wrigley noted the limitations of his classes as a result of virtual learning. “Right now, I’m able to show my own hands working through a document camera, but [I] am never able to look over a student’s shoulder to see how their hand moves a brush across the paper, then offer technical or intellectual support,” Wrigley shared. Another obstacle this class faces is lack of access to materials. “Some students have access to a wide range of art materials, while others have only printer paper and pencils, and the projects I have planned have to factor that in,” Wrigley explained.

Technical Drawing, also known as Drafting, has also been forced to deal with the absence of the necessary materials. When taught in person, students were required to draw with tools such as a T-square and a drawing board. Now, Zoom sessions usually consist of the teacher demonstrating activities through a document camera. “On Zoom, we usually talk about concepts we need to know about for the homework or we start the homework with the help of our teacher,” sophomore Ben Balodis said.

Rather than drawing with one’s hands, students use an online browser called Onshape to complete work. Onshape is a computer-aided design system that allows students to work collaboratively on design projects.

Robotics teacher Joseph Blay uses this software with his students as well. “Students learned how to design in this 3D modeling and assembly software and then made original parts designed to be 3D printed,” Blay stated. Blay sees this adaptation as an advantage, as he’s never been able to show his students Onshape before. Moreover, robotics students are able to work on assignments on their own time, as they have access to materials at home. “Every student has their own kit, so they can work on projects as much as they like. In school, kids are limited to only be able to access their parts and projects during class [or] if a teacher is there after school,” Blay said.

Ultimately, it is inevitable that online classrooms will never completely replicate the atmosphere created by in-person instruction, especially classes that depend on student collaboration and working with materials. Still, we can choose how we view the situation: as always, the glass can either be half full or half empty.