Behind the Screens of Online Learning

Eleanor A. '21, Section Editor of The Clock
Emma Willard School is pleased to have a student-run newspaper, The Clock. From time to time, we are honored to feature articles from the digital newspaper on our blog. Section Editor Eleanor A. '21 writes about what happens behind the screens in a digital teaching and learning experience. 

Conducting classes virtually, whether you are teaching them or taking them, has been something that students and teachers around the world have been forced to adjust to. When it became clear that online learning was not just a unique end to the 2019-2020 academic year, teachers had to master the technological and logistical aspects of teaching entirely online prior to the start of the school year, and then shifted gears a few weeks later when the day students arrived on campus and learning became a blended hybrid of remote and in-person students.

Mr. Brett LaFave, Mathematics Instructor, mentioned that he was apprehensive before the school year started because of the mishaps that incorporating a great deal of technology could bring to the classroom. In a way, the more technology needed in a given class period, the more room there is for potential errors or difficulties. These can range anywhere from some participants not being able to hear others in a Google meeting to the ear-shattering feedback noise that can occur whenever a person joins a meeting with two devices and one is unmuted. Despite potential technological challenges, however, Mr. LaFave said that he is getting the hang of using new applications such as Notability and Explain Everything to facilitate teaching lessons. He thinks that “[using] technology has improved [his] organization”, and when students arrived in early October, “incorporating remote learners and in-person learners pushed [him] as a teacher.”

Overcoming technical difficulties has just been one facet of the new life students and faculty are getting used to. Some students are finding it difficult to stay focused in a completely online environment, especially given the current chaos in the world. Juliette Syta ‘21 explained that at the beginning of the year when classes were all online, she felt “a lot more unfocused than usual, [and] it was easy to be distracted.” She said that it was difficult not to feel a sense of “sadness… when [she] thought about all the stuff [she] was missing.”

While the COIVD-19 pandemic has certainly taken a toll on everyone, studies show that teenagers are bearing the brunt of mental heath struggles.

The novelty of online learning has had effects, both good and bad, on students. While some have found that they are better suited to conducting school from their desks at home, others have had the opposite experience: they feel isolated from the outside world. While the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly taken a mental toll on everyone, studies show that teenagers are bearing the brunt of mental health struggles. Meaghan Lightbody-Warner’s “Teen Mental Health and COVID: A Letter for Parents” brought forth some enlightening statistics indicating that the mental ramifications of the pandemic might be with this generation for years to come. According to Lightbody-Warner, “in this stressful climate, 7 in 10 teens have experienced struggles with mental health”, noting that “55%... say they’ve experienced anxiety, 45% excessive stress, and 43% depression.” Additionally, she mentioned that “teens today report spending 75% of their waking hours on screens.”

Mental health and its importance have certainly become a more prevalent conversation in recent years. Ms. Erin Hatton, Science Instructor, added a “mindfulness” component to her neuroscience class a few years ago, in which students would take some time to relax for a few minutes at the start of every class, whether that comes in the form of breathing deeply, watching a Bob Ross painting tutorial, or journaling. She teaches her students that practicing mindfulness actually can reduce gray matter in the brain, which helps individuals to better cope with stress and anxiety. Ms. Hatton said that “[practicing mindfulness is] important this year because we need to be a bit more grounded.”

There are, of course, always opportunities to focus on your mental health outside of Neuroscience class! Counselor Erica Brockmyer said that before she came back to work this year, she “knew students [reasons for] coming to [the counselors would] be more COVID-related” because teens especially have been feeling more isolated than usual . This year, she has noticed that students are needing to “vent” a lot more because “there is just so much going on [in the world] and an outlet is needed.” She encourages students to remember that “there is no one size fits all” solution to taking care of your mind. She stressed the importance of commitment to “making a plan [and being] cognizant of staying committed… to keeping your mental health up to par.” Like most things in life, it involves “a lot of trial and error.” It is an ongoing process, according to Brockmyer, but one that can yield beneficial results in the long run.
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