Characterizing Couch Classrooms: Remote Education Alters Students, Teachers

Empty stores and silent highways have become the norm; restaurants closed, schools canceled, a sci-fi movie turns into reality. Living in a time of a pandemic provides a stressful result in nearly every category can be hard, and with more than 50 million kids at home from school closures, the issue illustrates a huge one. 

COVID-19 infiltrated American news after the first confirmed case on January 20th. Hitting the U.S. slowly but methodically, leading to a string of national closures and recommendations from the government, the virus altered the state of living of every American citizen. Superintendent of the district, Todd Washburn, declared the closure of every educational institution on March 16.

“I wish we weren’t in this situation at all.” Sara Jane Shepperd, PAP English I and AP/GT English IV teacher, said. “But, I do think it is nice that a lot of us are getting back to basics: appreciating time spent outside, talking to our families, asking our friends how they’re doing (no really, how are you doing?). If that means we can’t read Oedipus Rex with the freshmen this year, so be it.”

The time off of school may be beneficial to at-home development, however many worry that the lack of classroom learning may be leading to less knowledge retention. The Northwest Evaluation Association, a nonprofit organization that measures student performance, projects that students may retain only 70 percent of their annual reading gains compared with a normal year. 

“I miss interacting with the kids and watching them create amazing projects!” Kathy Shepherd, Environmental Science teacher, said. “I feel lucky to live in a school district where so many families have access to the internet, given the worldwide circumstances I feel lucky to live in DS and really wouldn’t change anything.”

The district has nearly completely become online, with teachers posting their assignments and lessons onto the newly added source, Canvas, which has only been used this school year.

“More in-depth class discussion is needed to fully digest the content,” senior Carson Hall said. “If everyone participated in video lectures this would be achieved online, but video lectures can’t be enforced. I don’t think social distance learning is the best option for everyone because it allows for people to put off work, or not even do it. I think only a select group of students who are fully motivated would be able to thrive in an online environment.”

Many standardized tests have also become affected by the shift to remote learning with Governor Greg Abbott announced that he has waived the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) testing requirements for the 2019-2020 school year and the College Board has moved AP Exams to online sources and shortened them.

“I think it is only effective if teachers consider what are the most important standards in their curriculum area,” Shepperd said. “And how to simplify enough so that students are maintaining knowledge and are ready to go next year. I feel lucky to teach English, where we can spend these two months honing skills, not trying to learn new ones.”

Immediate changes went into effect and as per the announcement on April 17 by Governor Abbott, all school has been formally canceled for the entire state. Taken into account, many fear the educational shortcomings from remote learning on reading levels, mathematical literacy, and general educational zeal.

“I was already a pretty flexible and understanding teacher,” Shepperd said. “So I feel like my transition into distance learning has been easier than others. I understand that students have lives outside of my classroom. School is not a top priority for some students right now and I understand and respect that. I don’t take it personally if a student turns in something late or asks for an extension, these are unprecedented times.”

By Ethan Everman, Staff Writer

Featured photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

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