We are staying online. Georgetown University is. And so are my children who are currently enrolled in Fairfax County public schools. It is therefore clear now what we need to plan for this coming Fall. This is not the first time, however, since we already had a taste of distance learning last Spring when COVID-19 closed schools abruptly. This time, however, we have the opportunity to prepare. And at Georgetown, we are asked to think about the new modality of teaching and learning. And since we had some experience last Spring, we are given the opportunity to look back and reflect on what our students have to say. Our students want flexibility without sacrificing academic rigor. The students also want transparency and communication, not a one-way thing, but one that includes them as active participants. And since our lectures or meetings are on Zoom, we are also reminded of this new condition, the "Zoom fatigue". There are several reasons why staring at a screen for some time could be taxing, and as we plan and schedule our online classes this Fall, considering a significant amount of time off-screen is imperative. As one student at Georgetown shows in a graphic essay, "Things are different now".
Besides "Zoom fatigue", a common thread from students' feedback involves the community. Establishing relationships is especially challenging in an online environment but learning requires the following relationships:
Establishing these relationships inside a face-to-face classroom is already demanding, but it even becomes more daunting in distance learning. Last spring, we even had the luxury of having known each other before schools became online. This fall, we have to meet our students for the first time online. How do we break the ice? Do we send emails to our students before September? Do we use surveys before school starts to have the opportunity to know more about our students? And how would the students get to know each other? These are challenges well outside of the curriculum. Students at Georgetown are telling us to be flexible. How does one plan for that? Making plans A-Z? And it must likewise come with academic rigor. And it should account that looking at a screen for an hour is so much draining compared to an hour inside a classroom. And there are additional challenges. Distance learning does not place all students in the same room. Some homes may not be conducive to learning. With most schools closed, older siblings may also be in charge of taking care of the younger ones.
These are real challenges. But we must prepare, for this is the only option that COVID-19 has given us. And we must begin now.
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