As elearning continues after the coronavirus pandemic shut schools down in March, millions of grade school and college students at Warren Township High School and across the US are wrestling with its effects.
Elearning has been widely adopted by schools in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of students, teachers, and their family members. Regardless of the precautions that would be taken, CDC-recommended social distancing and mask mandates would be difficult to maintain within the classroom and cafeteria settings. Virtual learning is unsurprisingly different than what it would be in person, yet it increasingly seems to have a generally negative effect on students.
The most pressing shortfall of elearning is its effect on learning. While current elearning plans are much more comprehensive than those in the spring, teachers and students alike are still feeling their negative effects. One reason is that students are less engaged in class. There’s many more distractions to students at home. The classroom setting provides a dedicated place for learning where teachers can easily see when students aren’t working or engaged, while students at home can easily skip class or spend the entire time on their phones. Also, it’s much harder to encourage students to actively participate in class. Warren Township High School English teacher Gretchen Holly states, “As English is often discussion-based, I have had to think of new ways to encourage participation.” Discussion over video call is awkward and uninviting in a way in-person discussion isn’t, which further disengages students from their learning.
Even when students are able to focus on their classes, the new style of teaching also affects how well they’re able to learn. At Warren, the implementation of a block schedule means students have to focus for longer periods of time than they’re used to. It also means that the balance between classwork and homework has shifted. Shalini Kolli, a Warren Township High School senior, maintains that the hardest part of elearning is “realizing I have to learn on my own time and class time is for discussion/explaining.” During elearning, students are more responsible for how much and how well they learn. While not necessarily a negative, placing this responsibility on students so suddenly affects students’ ability to successfully learn the material.
This effect isn’t unique to Warren, or even to high schools in general. At universities, especially in liberal arts courses, professors have largely placed the burden of learning on students. Vindhya Kalipi, a freshman at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, describes her experience with elearning: “I would like more pre-recorded lectures since most of my classes are me teaching myself. For example, my TA will give me a schedule of assignments, and I have to do the readings and teach myself the content and just submit everything on time.” Learning is especially difficult without support from professors in the form of video calls or pre-recorded lectures. Yet, despite these challenges, tuition at the university has not been cut.
Elearning can also have a significant impact on students’ physical health. For one, elearning requires students to be on electronic devices for far longer than they would in school. As stated by Rally Health, the harm of increased screen time is extensive. It can result in strained vision, headaches, sleep disturbances, and can ironically affect learning ability. Additionally, students miss out on movement between classes, gym class, and sports, which further damages their health.
Beyond physical health, the mental health of those involved in the school system is also suffering. Everyone has had to adapt to a completely new form of learning while juggling classwork, family, outside commitments, and the weight of living through a global pandemic. While schools have implemented policies to reduce this burden, both teachers and students are more stressed than usual.
Additionally, elearning is inherently isolating. Whereas students would normally be interacting with their friends, classmates, and teachers, that interaction is now limited to videocalls that are often spent on mute. Holly states, “So much energy comes from that one-on-one in person with students. Building relationships and classroom community are so important and that piece of school is very difficult to do online.” During elearning, students and teachers alike are missing the sociable, helpful environment of school and facing the effect on their mental health.
While the effects of elearning are largely skewed towards the negative, there are some positive effects on students. While many mourn the loss of clubs, sports, and even a full day of school, this opens up time for students to do homework earlier and get to bed sooner than they would with a normal school schedule. According to Kalipi, “I’m less tired because I don’t have a lot of Zoom classes. I basically get up when I want to and pace myself throughout the day.” Because of elearning, unhealthy extremes like notorious college all-nighters can be avoided.
In a similar vein, elearning can be the perfect opportunity for students to focus on things outside of schoolwork. Specifically, high school seniors are able to dedicate their time and focus to college applications. Kolli describes her own experience with elearning and college applications: “since I have less homework and after school stuff, I can focus on college more.” This provides current seniors an advantage that previous classes never had, though many would hesitate to call the cancellation of extracurriculars and sports right when colleges are looking at their involvement to be much of an advantage.
With elearning still widely used by schools around the United States, the negative effect it has on learning is clear. Its effect on the mental and physical health of millions of students and teachers can’t be ignored either. Yet, elearning does have its upsides, and people will continue to make the most of them as they have with every other obstacle during this pandemic.