Distanced learning presents benefits, drawbacks


Kirby Child

Senior Anna Daraselia makes time for online schoolwork during her break at the pool, where she works as a lifeguard.

Montgomery County Public Schools and Maryland’s Board of Education adopted a distanced learning schedule for the first semester of this school year. This transition poses both benefits and drawbacks to students and teachers.

Structurally speaking, the weekly schedule of distanced learning is drastically different from the in-person school schedule. As each period is given only two one-hour slots per week, the amount of time students spend in each of their classes weekly is hours less than it usually is. On Mondays and Thursdays, students join Zoom calls for class periods one through four, and on Tuesdays and Fridays, class periods five through eight take place. Students are given 10-minute breaks between classes, with an hour-and-a-half break for lunch in the middle of the day. Wednesdays operate on an optional virtual check-in schedule, where time slots are allotted to each class, and students can join Zoom calls if they have questions to ask their teachers.

Teachers are packing as much information into their Zoom sessions as possible, and altering their lesson plans accordingly. For some students, teaching themselves material and keeping up with their work is no problem, but for others, the lessened instructional time is damaging. According to The New York Times, “There is mounting evidence that the growth of online education is hurting a critical group: the less proficient students who are precisely those in need of skilled classroom teachers.”

There is mounting evidence that the growth of online education is hurting a critical group: the less proficient students who are precisely those in need of skilled classroom teachers

— The New York Times

Motivation and time management are two key factors of being successful in online courses. External factors like siblings, pets, or a number of other distractions that can be found in one’s house make it much harder to focus on Zoom calls and classwork assignments, and being in an environment that was not made strictly for educational purposes lessens motivation. In this new form of learning, students must also learn to manage their time effectively, remembering to log onto their classes and turn in assignments on time, whether or not they meet with that class the day the assignment is due.

The lack of hands-on learning could prove to be detrimental to students. In some courses like chemistry, biology and nutrition, labs are a crucial component. During in-person classes, working together with lab partners or in groups is common, but virtual school negates this. Zoom breakout rooms, though less authentic than getting together with a group in person, offer students the chance to work with classmates on assignments and projects. Teachers decide when to put students in these breakout rooms. Some teachers use breakout rooms every class, and some rarely use them. “I really like when my teachers put us in breakout rooms because I get to talk to other people and we can work together on assignments,” junior Reza Abediya said.

Aside from the scheduling and structural aspects of distance learning, this new normal presents students with lessened social opportunities. Students can no longer see their friends in the hallway between classes or sit with them at lunch. Additionally, as sports, clubs and other extracurriculars have been moved online, students are void of contact with peers they would normally see on a daily basis at these various activities. This lack of socialization is hugely impactful to high school students as well as younger kids. According to The Washington Post, “A student’s experiences at school are among the most influential factors in their socialization.”

Students of all grade levels are missing out on traditional events, like homecoming and pep rallies. For seniors, this is especially difficult to come to terms with. Senior Christina Lee has been a member of the Class of 2021’s class planning since her freshman year and is disappointed that, as a member of Splanning, she will not get to organize events for her class. “This year we had so many fun events to plan, such as preparing to decorate our homecoming hallway, building our float, hosting POTH and TNL, etc., all of which would’ve been such valued memories to reflect back on our senior year,” Lee said.

There are two sides to the distance learning dilemma. A number of students feel they are missing out on important aspects of their high school experience, while others have found a silver lining. While reflecting on the first couple weeks of school, sophomore Danielle Land said, “It’s a lot more relaxed and I get more free time throughout the day.”