There Should be No ‘New Normal,’ Especially When it Involves Zoom

By: Olivia Paus

The start of 2020 was the start of COVID-19. The world shifted, and institutions needed to come up with quick solutions. Schools moved online with an unprecedented stopping period. Everyone had to navigate through and begin participating in distance learning.

A video conferencing platform that was not popular in its initial release, Zoom. It was the right answer when school could no longer be held in a physical building. Although the platform had some hurdles and accusations of lagging issues, it became the new way of teaching school. Students and teachers had to learn new techniques. After taking results from 4.4 million elementary and middle school students, a report showed that participating students were doing poorly in math as a result of Zoom.

Chealsy Guadalajara is a recent graduate from University of Illinois Chicago. Guadalajara said that her classes had a lot of memorization involved. She said that she was having a difficult time recalling some of the terms over distance learning. Guadalajara said that it’s important to her to know what her teacher looks like in hopes of relating to them in some ways. Students remember things better if they can relate and if they are able to see the speaker while they are talking.

Students have shown that being able to see classmates and teachers is important while trying to learn. Third-grader, Sophie Sanchez, worries her mother and sister because she gets overwhelmed by Zoom.  Matthew Biel, a director of child and adolescent psychiatry said that this is not uncommon.

“Your 7-year-old wants to be recognized when they raise their hand. Oftentimes doesn’t happen on Zoom. They want to be able to make a comment, joke with a peer— can’t do that, no chatting allowed. Wants to be able to get up and walk around the classroom and move — can’t do that we need to be able to see your face on screen” Biel said in The Washington Post.

“I was grateful that we had something where we could meet face-to-face,” said an optimistic second grade teacher. Jessica Rock works for Hiawatha Elementary School. Rock loves Zoom and has said that her students participate just as much as they would in a physical classroom.

Labeled a Nazareth Academy High School Scholar, Carlie Merola has surpassed just receiving an “honor roll” status. While in her Junior year at Dominican University, she works on learning to the best of her ability. Merola did not start taking classes online until fall of 2020. She was able to teach herself the Zoom software. Merola said that during online learning she felt a large disconnect.

John Brandon, a social media reporter for Forbes, had an epiphany about Zoom which caused him to think about reality and Zoom.

Brandon used to be awed with the virtual images in the video games he would play. Brandon namely talks about a waterfall scene in Ico. Also admitting that he was a fan of Myst when the computer game was still popular. Brandon wrote about the abilities that the creators of these games had and how they used them to make you feel as if you were actually there.

   “Lately, every Zoom call has reminded me of what we’re all missing. It’s called reality,” Brandon said. Merola had grown accustomed to taking care of all her work on her laptop. She had started to use technology more than what was her idea of a “normal” amount.

“Sometimes I’ll close my laptop and then realize, ‘Oh there’s an entire world around me,’” Said Merola, a college junior. Mack Thom, a history teacher at Dekalb High School said that he thinks that students are too focused on activities not involving school while being taught online.

Brandon and his son had recognized that the video game they were playing was only that, a video game. A number of parents worry that their children are looking at their video games and feeling that they are part of their own world. Which is not exactly accurate.

Experts have said that playing video games is not always a bad thing.  Games that involve puzzles teach strategy and multiplayer games involve teamwork. The reason Zoom and video games are comparable is that neither of them are meant to be used for long periods of time. The use of them isn’t anything bad. Overusing them causes people to run into problems. 

Skills to master online learning is a lot different than the skills used in a physical learning environment. World Economic Forum wrote an article explaining why online classrooms might change the education system globally. The Los Angeles Unified School District and PBS SoCal/ KCET have worked together to come up with a series of educational channels for different age groups.

Tests have shown that the hybrid model has led to some great benefits. The article talks about how the growth of children is different between age groups. Younger students need a more structured environment and a teacher in front of them. 

An online platform accessible to the public, We Forum, talks about the major improvements that online learning has been adding. Several teachers give their accounts and Lark is offering any person that uses the app unlimited video conferencing time. The obscure amount of time will be enjoyable to students at first. However, students will eventually abuse it, just as they would a deadline for an assignment.

High school students talk about how they prefer in-person learning compared to distanced. Several of the survey participants said that they struggle to find the motivation to work on schoolwork while at home.

 Kelly Paetsch is a music teacher at Park Junior High. Paetsch said that she “adapted to Zoom and teaching students” over the internet fairly quick. 

However, Paetsch feels that students are missing the rite of passage to some interactions that are supposed to happen to middle schoolers. “… deal with cliques or bullying; flirting, trying out for teams, auditioning for roles and the like. Unfortunately, all of those sometimes uncomfortable interactions are part of growing up,” said Paetsch in an emailed message.

According to Peter C. Herman, a professor and a contributor to Inside Higher Learning, there are many adults that advocate for online learning. As soon as Zoom emerged, people were beginning to see it as a progression of technology in the world of education.

Hiawatha Elementary is one of the elementary schools that supply iPads for each of their students. Some other schools haven’t been as lucky during the pandemic.

Survey shows that a lot of low-income families are not able to provide their children the proper technology and sometimes even a private area for school. There is a disproportionate amount of iPad and school provided devices in any given state. 

The repercussions of a lack of learning opportunities can be scary. Low-income families have said that children still attending school are less focused over Zoom. They can become easily disengaged. Even though Zoom seems to have little distractions to the untrained eye, students seem to lose interest if they don’t immediately feel involved.  Students also benefit from developing a habit of learning from a specific area.

Another teacher from Park Junior High, Greg Carsten, said that everybody’s had a difficult time with the transition from in-person learning to Zoom. Carsten explained that with what resources are given, it is important to have “real time interactions and responses.”

Routines have proven to be helpful for students. In-person school has the advantage over distance learning because the school buildings are already designed as a student learning environment. Students taking Zoom classes or classes on similar platforms must create their own learning space.

Devoting one section of your house to an area to take classes and study helps organize our brains. Continuously using this section for school will help students remain focused. The survey results were that 1 in 3 families did not have a quiet place for their children to study. Many of the parents also said that disengagement was a big issue.

Rock is reserved by nature, but she works extra hard to make sure that her students all feel comfortable in their learning environment. She does allow her students to keep their cameras off, but she has one stipulation. “They know I’m coming’ for [them], better make sure they’re listening.”

Folliard prefers her students to keep their cameras on, but is understanding for special circumstances.

“When you don’t see the people that you’re talking to, it just feels like you’re talking to a screen.” Said Valencia. “Like when…. I try to say something, I didn’t even know where to look, I just looked out my window. I just looked at my wall and I didn’t feel like I was talking to a person.”

Teresa Figgins is a 5th grade teacher in Oregon City. She loves her students and limits her relaxation time for the students’ benefit. Figgins credits Zoom for allowing her to see her students while teaching. Figgins said that Zoom has changed education in a lot of ways. She knows that it had to because of the pandemic, but she misses her classroom.

“You aren’t going to meet a teacher that makes it through a week without crying or wanting to cry at least once just because […] everything takes longer and you can’t give the kids everything they need in the moment,” Figgins told KGW news.

Navigating on any new platform can be difficult, but something as unpredictable as Zoom brings along more challenges. Friendships are often formed through school. Schools and places that bring large groups of people should be comfortable. The environment provided should be comfortable.

Folliard talks about the type of environment that she tried to offer when the students would attend the in-person classes during hybrid. Her biggest goal was to have them feel relaxed and to have a sense of community. Folliard had calming music playing and she would call each students name as they entered.

Having worked at Columbia College for several years now, William O’Connor has his own perspective on when students are able to participate best. O’Connor said that he has noticed that his students participate more while attending class in-person. Although he also said that learning through Zoom had inspired some great conversation.

History teacher, Myron Curtis, had a different approach to keeping his classes engagement. Curtis had arranged a couple of  virtual trips while teaching history. “I decided to take my virtual classroom to historic sites around the country….imagine my surprise when not only did my students attend, but others who aren’t in my class tuned in as well,” he said.

Some teachers can get students outside of their own classroom to attend. Although other teachers have difficulty keeping their students in class. The adjusting period between in-person classes and Zoom was not easy and there are many reasons why students don’t attend classes. Students failed to attend class over Zoom for technical reasons.

A kindergarten teacher interviewed by St. Louis Magazine, Gretchen Lippincott, said that online classes make it nearly impossible to see what students are doing from the other side of the screen. Lippincott said that she finds it a struggle to have to differentiate between which students worked on their own compared to those that had help from parents.

CNBC polled some parents to see whether they felt equipped to handle their job and stay on top of their children’s school schedules. Over half said that they have guilt because they don’t think they are helping their children to succeed. Hardworking mother, Elizabeth Wiggs said that she feels like she can’t achieve both. Over a quarter of parents from the survey polled said that they would work less to help out their children.

August 31st of 2021 was a big deal for many Chicago Public School students. The stay-at-home measures were coming to an end and school faculty and teachers were vaccinated in order to start working from school again.

Students ran to their schools, ready to learn and begin a new year. Many parents decided to accompany their children. A few of the parents and faculty decided to share how they felt about schools being in-person once again. Many of them excited to do so.

“I’m just eager for them to get in, get their education,” said Sanders, accompanying her two 4-year-old daughters. “I feel like they learn a lot better in person.”

Sanders shared a common opinion amongst other parents. Some had trouble facing their children’s poor grades that they received during the height of the pandemic. A Study on California parents during COVID-19 said that a mother was so devastated about her child’s grades, that she left the room.

Jack Martens graduated this past May from McClure Middle School with honor roll. Jack is good at policing himself and completing his homework on time. However, he shares that many of his classmates lack similar skills.

Jack said that he felt like Zoom was not the same as being in a physical classroom for many reasons. But there was one main reason. “Many students were afraid to ask for help in front of the whole class and that led to many people falling behind in class,” Jack said over a text message.

Socrates held the belief that talking to someone in person meant more than having that same person read your thoughts. Socrates was against just writing things down, he said that talking to someone face-to-face made concepts easier to grasp rather than forcing people to read a piece of paper every time just so that they could understand.

O’Connor said that he reflected some of this belief in his own practices. Adding that he avoided teaching heavy subjects while communicating through Zoom. O’Connor greeted his students with enthusiasm at the start of the semester, a couple students shared similar feelings about attending class in-person again.

Both Jack and O’Connor were grateful to have been able to continue school through Zoom during the pandemic. Although, they both said that having class in person is much more effective.

“… as said, we become teachers because we want to see our students succeed,” Thom said.

People are not supposed to be doing multiple things at once. Even those that think they’re great at multitasking, probably aren’t all that great. Having a goal to do well on several activities is not very logical, and as humans we choose one activity to put the majority of our attention in. Psychology labels this as ‘continuous partial attention.’ Just the same, online school becomes limited with who and what students remain attuned with.

Schools with decorations and lots of artwork in their classrooms have actually proven to distract their students. The average attention of an 8 to 14-year-old is 10 to 12 minutes. The Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences decided to find out whether more students are distracted while learning in person. The Institute conducted research a couple of years before the pandemic started and watched slightly over a thousand elementary students. 

After doing several weeks of research, they learned that students became more distracted as the year progressed. Students, especially young ones, would become physically distracted. Things as simple as a neon headband or a classmate’s new shoes could capture and pull children’s attention away from what they are learning. A seemingly easy solution would be to introduce more online learning to students. The Institute’s researchers concluded that almost a quarter of an elementary student’s time in the classroom is focused on things other than learning. 

Other types of distractions arise while learning online. Learning from an environment where you also have your free time has its downfalls. Your brain has a hard time distinguishing between the two. People innately search for nonverbal cues that can help find meaning in what someone is saying. Regardless of a class being taught online, students will still try to see the speakers movements and reactions. Which takes a lot of a student’s energy and makes most people tired.

Carsten said that most often, a hardworking student will continue to push themselves no matter what the circumstance. Students can change their work ethic at any point in their school career. Other students just have phenomenal time managing skills.

      “Sometimes I tell ya, I pop in and they’re talking away,” Folliard said about her students during breakout sessions. Folliard is impressed by her students and how mature they have proven to be during COVID-19. She also talked about the difficulties of learning during a pandemic. Folliard wanted her students to open up as much as they wanted to with their emotions.

To properly learn, a person needs to be focused and not feel any strong emotions.  According to Committee for Children, Social-Emotional Learning teaches children how to express and channel their emotions during life situations. The school district that Rock works for uses Second Step as a tool for SEL.

“I’ll go off of Second Stop and just add in my own things… so we talk about different things. Like, what does it mean to be healthy? How does your body feel when you’re healthy? Whether it’s in your brain, mentally, or physically,” Said Rock. Rock is thoroughly supportive of the opportunities the district she works for has allowed her and she said that SEL has proven to be helpful for her students.

Schools involved with SEL build a broader connection with a range of students. SEL has made it so that students have tactics to manage their emotions and can stop unnecessary breakdowns. Children are then able to attain these skills at a young age and carry them into their professional careers.

Carsten said that he is not looking forward to continuing to teach online, unless it was for school days. He felt that online school forced more work on the teachers. “…. having to stream students quarantining into hybrid classes are all different styles of teaching- – none of which teachers were ever formally taught.” Said Carsten, a middle school math teacher.

Having to endure the pandemic and the changes it has introduced are both negative and positive. Young children produce better work and experts have said they are more focused while attending in-person classes. Nonetheless, Zoom has helped find alternative and aided in newer resources.

Seventy-nine percent of employers say SEL skills are the most important qualities for job success, according to Committee for Children.

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