Distance Learning: A New Chapter in Education

  • November 17, 2020

Picturing Timothy Chong, Junior, doing his homework (photo credit to Hannah Chong) 

In early March of 2020, students and teachers alike were forced to make an emergency pivot to distance learning in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Rather than attending their classes in person, students would instead receive their education through zoom and participate in online activities. This raises the question: How do students’ experiences in virtual learning compare with that of in-person school? 

 To gather data, a survey was sent out to La Cañada High School students in order to tabulate their experiences with distance learning. The survey was taken by about 200 students and the respondents were fairly distributed between each of the four grade levels. The first part of the survey began with general questions regarding students’ respective grade levels and the level of classes they are taking (e.g. Honors, AP). During the second part of the survey, students were asked more specific questions regarding time management, engagement, performance, etc. 

In the survey, one of the most fascinating questions asked students how many hours they spent after school either studying or completing assigned work. What made this question so interesting was the wide distribution of responses. Specifically, approximately 37 percent said they spent 4 or more hours, 32 percent said they spend 3 hours, 25 percent said they spend 2 hours, and the last 6 percent of students said they spend 1 hour or less. As such, about 70 percent of students spend three or more hours on schoolwork on top of the time they are attending their daily classes which is a considerable amount of time. As each class period has been shortened by 20 minutes to accommodate a distance learning environment, it is understandable that students would need to spend time on their own in order to make up for this lost time. 

During this time of distance learning, one of the major challenges faced by teachers was ensuring student engagement during virtual class. As such, one of the survey questions polled students on the different methods utilized by teachers to track student participation. Based on the data, one of the most common ways for teachers to monitor student engagement is by requiring their cameras to be on for the entire class period. Not only does this ensure that the students are paying attention, but it also helps teachers feel less like they are talking into a void. In addition to the use of webcams, it was found that many teachers gave out daily quizzes in order to examine students’ comprehension of material learned in class. 

Lastly, one of the most researched topics was how virtual learning impacted academic performance. Timothy Chong, a junior, said, “I expected distance learning to be more difficult since the school had the opportunity to reflect on last year’s distance learning flaws and fix them. Seeing that it’s almost the end of first semester, I can definitely see an improvement in distance learning since it’s more organized and well put together. Although it is harder, kids are now provided with better education and distance learning has evolved into a close replication of what school was like in person back before March.” 

Another student, Olivia Banks, a sophomore, said, “I definitely knew it was going to be a different experience seeing people only on my screen and i expected that it was going to be a bit more difficult since we can’t really physically interact with anyone and physically be in each other’s presence. so far online learning has been more tough than actually going to school, probably because i get distracted more easily and i’m not really with my friends as i would be in class in school.”

According to the survey results, many students felt the same way as about 90 percent of students responded that distance learning led to the same or even a decrease in academic performance. Additionally, distance learning hits on AP students the hardest as the College Board still requires teachers to cover the full AP curriculum in preparation of the AP exam. However due to the shortened schedule during distance learning, teachers simply do not have enough time to do so and it is often up to the students to fill in the content gaps on their own. 

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