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The Review's newest student columnist on the sad truth about online learning

It seems strange to me that only a couple of months ago my classmates and I were counting down the days until summer. Counting down the days until we didn't have to sit and listen to lectures or walk around the same hallways every day.

Now we all want nothing more than to go back and listen to Monday morning announcements and sit down at an uncomfortable desk. COVID-19 has done the impossible — make high school students around the country miss school. COURTESY PHOTO: ELIZABETH MILLER - ELIZABETH MILLER

Remote learning has left students feeling isolated and more confused than ever, and that's when they bother to show up to classes. It has become a new normal to expect several students missing from class every day. Students now don't feel the same pressure to attend classes as they have in years past. While they are missing class they are posting pictures of themselves traveling or hanging out with the family dog.

According to a study done by Fishbowl, a social networking app, teachers are reporting attendance at under 50%. This means attendance is lower than what it was precoronavirus. In 2018, federal data showed that only 20% of students were chronically absent.

These low numbers not only affect the students learning but also their classmates. Participation during Zoom calls is impossible for teachers to control. Students feign broken mics or simply turn off their cameras and walk away from class, leaving students unable to talk to their peers.

When schools were still holding classes, students would be able to talk to teachers or their peers to ask questions. But now that communication is stunted and limited to email or the chat function.

Class discussions and group work also have fallen flat during COVID. Now more than ever, students feel uncomfortable talking with their peers during the rare moments of social connection they have with one another. Breakout rooms turn into awkward staring contests. Mics are muted until someone works up the courage to get their phone out.

Online learning also has given rise to cyberbullying. Just this year alone, Lakeridge has found about a dozen student-run Instagram accounts, using the Lakeridge logo, created for the sole purpose of "exposing" their peers.

Students feel distanced from the support they had when they were in school. Cyberbullying is hard to track and show others, sometimes a comment can only be up for a matter of minutes, but that time can be damaging.

Having a social life through a computer screen simply isn't mentally or physically healthy. Students are on their screens all day for classes, homework and then to maybe chat with some friends. Research has shown for years that adolescents shouldn't be on a screen for more than two hours a day. That goal is now impossible.

Distance learning does have its benefits. For example, ASB organizes school spirit weeks and online competitions. Still, there are just too many negatives. It's the little things that have students impatiently waiting for schools to reopen. And though school may not look the same with students wearing masks and no major schoolwide events, at least there would be something familiar.

With all this said I don't believe the solution is to go back to school. There is still a great risk if everyone were to go back into the building. But I believe there may be ways to restructure distance learning to make students feel like they are in a classroom.

If there were a way for students to have office hours with teachers or stricter guidelines with attendance there might be a higher level of comprehension. Right now students are being given lots of slack, and they are taking advantage of it. Online learning will only work if you turn on your computer.

Elizabeth Miller is a student at Lakeridge High School.


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