Virtual Learning – The New Reality

Learning has become an entirely new endeavor

In response to the coronavirus, schools across the nation have transitioned to online learning. Remote learning, outside of the classroom and with no physical contact is a new experience for students and teachers alike. 17% of teens do not have access to a reliable computer or internet access, according to 2018 data from the Pew Research Center. This has left low-income students behind while creating new learning setbacks and a wider digital divide.

For students making the change, learning has become an entirely new endeavor. “In my household, there are six of us living in an apartment, and my siblings and I have a struggle sharing the devices we already have at home,” says Margaux Bautista, a junior in Sacramento. Bautista is an International Baccalaureate candidate who is also involved with extracurriculars like Key Club and journalism. The online learning content has not been difficult to learn yet, however adapting to the new learning environment has. Thankfully, Bautista was able to borrow a PC from her school. But 12% of U.S. students do not have access to a home computer, according to the Pew Research Center.

However, many students have taken to online learning pre-pandemic. Lina Shpyrka (‘21) has been enrolled in online school for the past year. While there are some downsides to online learning, Shpyrka’s experience has proven to be positive and beneficial. Being able to determine her own schedule has allowed her to create a more productive educational experience from home. “I have a significantly lighter workload because I no longer have to do “busy work” and I am not stuck at school for more time than is necessary,” says Shpyrka. For her, even the downsides have a positive to them. For instance, reaching out to teachers is not as direct or as simple as it is in the classroom. However, these challenges have led students like Shpyrka to become more independent individuals and learners.

When the virus began to impact her community, Shpyrka did see a change in her online education. Although the majority of her education is online, the school has face-to-face gatherings. “The greatest impact was the cancellation of all in-person events such as teacher meetings, tutoring, and other activities with the school.”

As Shpyrka’s public school friends transition to online learning, she sees the struggles to adapt. When asked what she would recommend to students making the switch, she says, “Reach out to your teachers as much as you can and start your schoolwork as early as you can in the day to get it over with.”

On the other end, learning to navigate new online platforms such as Schoology and Zoom has been a challenge for educators according to Leanne Linares, a math teacher in Sacramento. However, teachers who have already implemented online resources within their curriculum are more on track.

The Folsom Cordova Unified School District has offered Chromebooks to students in need, and the community has worked to provide Wi-Fi hotspots as well. While reaching every student virtually has been a struggle, Linares says, “Everybody who made contact we connected with and got resources to.” Personally, in the first week of online learning, Linares only saw about 20% participation from her students. With her school planning to be closed for the remainder of the semester, she says, “As time goes on, I think we’re going to see less and less participation if we decide that we are in fact not going to grade anything and there will not be any assessments moving forward.”

Virtual learning has setbacks, and the equality of it is in question in regard to accessibility. However, students and teachers are making the changes necessary to continue learning through the strains of the pandemic.