A land of confusion in the time of distance learning

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Editor’s Note: Kellen Hoard is a sophomore at Inglemoor High School in Kenmore, Washington and EEN’s student intern for SY 2019-20. He is regular contributor to this space, sharing student voice on topics of interest.

If I had to use one word to describe the perspective of students during coronavirus, it would be “confused.”  As I have talked to my peers at Inglemoor High School over the course of the past few weeks about our distance learning grading system, a repeated theme of confusion has arisen. What is the system? How does this system apply in each class? How does it impact me? 

To be clear, I feel the Northshore School District has done a relatively good job of communication during these educationally chaotic times. But with the new grading system released on April 27, after several iterations of online schooling and grading, it seems that many students reached the point of mental exhaustion trying to keep up. Through no fault of the district’s, many different methods of teaching and scoring were rolled out and tried, but after all the changes many students are simply lost. And I imagine this isn’t just the case with my school or district.

Information overload

Of course, what I have learned about how students from my school feel is mostly anecdotal.  There are surely differing opinions and understandings from those that I heard. But it is possible to glean some common feelings. A primary one could be described as some level of bewilderment. The coronavirus has been such a dominant topic and disruptor that information overload is starting to hit. Many are simply looking for a break from all the constant changes that this year has brought. So, when a new method of grading was recently announced, some just didn’t have the bandwidth to begin processing it.

To further complicate matters, the new system in my district is based more on participation – not on demonstrating mastery of content – which is a new grading concept for most. Some students have expressed concern that teachers might not understand the new system, though teachers themselves have not expressed this concern to us. A few students have said that they actually are excited for the change, but they were in the minority. Ultimately, the overwhelming message was that after so much educational turbulence, students just didn’t care enough to spend the time to understand the latest operating system for distance learning. At bottom, students mostly just wanted to get through it and be done with it.  

A typical day during atypical times

What a typical school day entails in the life of a student from my school has changed many times since online teaching began. This constant change is part of the reason for the aforementioned apathy.  However, a sort of rhythm has now emerged. There is a pretty good mix of teachers who conduct live classes on Zoom and those who do not. The consensus among students I have talked to is that at this point, except for foreign-language classes, many teachers are running Zooms not because they need to but because they feel obligated or just want to chat with students. Many students I have talked to have mentioned how pointless these online experiences feel.

Content-wise, there is also a mix. Some students are receiving more work than they would in regular school, while others are receiving the same amount or less. Many teachers are shifting to fewer, long-term projects, while others are still assigning “busy work.” Many are assigning a lot of work at once, but are designating some or most of the items optional. Student opinions are scattered. One frequent theme among students, though, is a lack of motivation.     

Students, of course, still care about their grades. But I have noticed some who, while usually incredibly motivated students, are mostly just figuring out the very least they can do to achieve an A grade. This year has been a lot for even the least stressed of us, and while I appreciate the steps the district is taking, on the student end it doesn’t appear to be a dominant factor in anyone’s minds.