By CANDY STALLWORTH
Along with other insane phenomena, such as stay-at-home orders, business restrictions, and mask mandates brought about by COVID-19 in 2020, virtual/hybrid learning for K-12 schools is has been ubiquitous throughout the nation (and many parts of the world) since mid-March. At that time, COVID-19 was spreading rapidly, and state governments quickly jumped to shutdown orders that effectively closed every school, public and private, in their respective states. In nearly all K-12 school settings across the county, this was the end of in-person schooling for the 2019-20 school year, as almost no schools reopened and all schooling was completed online.
But now, it’s the 2020-21 school year, and schools across the country have been in session, in some form other, for a month or more. There is tremendous variation in what students are experiencing this year. Let’s take a look, shall we, at the oxymoronic concepts of virtual learning and hybrid learning.
Virtual learning refers to learning via online tools. Typically, students’ school day consists of participation in an online, “virtual” meeting using their computer and webcam and interacting with the teacher and other classmates through a platform such as Zoom or Google Meet. Along with this, they may complete online activities such as watching videos, completing documents, playing games on educational websites, and the like.
Hybrid learning refers to learning through both in-person instruction and virtual learning. Students who engage in hybrid learning attend school in person part of the time and use virtual learning the rest of the time. So they have some normalcy in that they get to attend school. But even the in-person learning experience is fraught with changes and mandates that make it very different from any previous school year.
Here’s a sampling of what virtual learning and hybrid learning look like for students at various schools:
Some students, whose schools have mandated fully virtual learning, sit in front of their computer screen ALL DAY. That is, from approximately 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., depending upon their schedule. They endure hour after hour of tiled faces on their screens, of the inevitable struggles to sustain their attention, and the likely technological failures that can pop up at any time. They take a quick, half-hour lunch break (of course, eating lunch in their own homes) and if they are lucky enough to finish eating with a few minutes to spare, can take laps around the backyard (or the house) as “recess” before they settle in for their afternoon in front of the screen.
At the other end of the virtual learning spectrum are the students who briefly meet with their teacher for a few minutes online, usually at the beginning of the day and then perhaps, for some, at the end of the day. For the rest of the day, they are working on assignments and activities that are delivered to them through their online platform, such as Google Classroom. If they have adults or older siblings around them to guide them or at least periodically check on them, then they have a better chance of actually learning something. If not, they are on their own.
Students in hybrid learning situations face a cacophony of schedules and structures. All of the following are actual hybrid school schedules that are occurring this year:
- Students attend school in person every other day, for half a day. So one week, they attend Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The next week, they attend Tuesday and Thursday. The following week it is Monday, Wednesday, Friday again.
- Students attend school for two set days (either Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday) for half a day. Each group attends every other Friday, so students attend either two or three days, depending on the week.
- Students attend school for five days one week, and the next week they are virtual all week. The following week, it’s back to school all week, and so on.
- Schools have A,B,C,D,E (or some group of letters) days, rather than Monday through Friday. The letter days that they attend school vary, depending on holidays and other scheduling variations. Some schools actually have letter days in combinations with the actual days of the week, so students must keep track of the days of the week in the real world and the days of the week in their school world, in order to know when to attend school.
While this is a sample of hybrid instruction scheduling, there are many more scenarios. In all of these virtual and hybrid learning settings, the amount of actual teaching and learning that occurs is significantly decreased. In education circles, it is commonly understood that students lost at least 30% of the expected learning in the last school year. It is too soon to tell how much they will lose this year, if the shutdown insanity continues.
Not to mention, the quality of the school experience is far less than normal for those who are in school. Children are confined to circles, or squares, or plexiglass-enclosed areas that are “socially distanced” (there’s another oxymoronic term) from one another. Lunch time and recess, two major times for interaction and social growth, are minimized or eliminated in most schools. Instruction in subjects outside the core subject areas, such as gym, art, and music, are also minimized or typically relegated to asynchronous or optional instruction. Academic support services such as speech, reading support, and occupational therapy are hit or miss. IEP’s for students with identified learning needs may or may not be followed carefully.
And speaking of losing, everyone is the loser when children have anything less than five-day-a-week, fully in-person instruction. Teachers lose out because they are working extra hard; on any given day, they are planning for students who are in school for the day, students who will come to school on their next scheduled day, and in many cases, students who are fully virtual. Teachers who are compelled to teach all virtual must scramble to gain proficiency with online tools. Administrators have become hand sanitizing/mask-wearing police, while figuring out their schools’ air filtration system and turning their hallways into one-way walkways, and addressing a host of other issues, such as how to sanitize books and lab equipment, ensuring everyone’s technology is functioning well, and understanding legal/privacy ramifications of online schooling. Parents and family members lose out, when working adults must adjust their work schedules and work spaces to accommodate children who are learning from home, and when they must become their child’s tutor to reteach concepts their children did not grasp through a computer screen.
But children are losing the most. The social interaction that comes from school is crucial for their development. To be physically separate from their peers and teachers, to be compelled to wear a mask all day at school, to have to conform to one-way arrows in the hallway, to enter through separate entrances into their school building, or to be forced to stay home and learn online is to be denied basic childhood experiences. Children need school in its usual form.
The hysteria that has led to closing schools altogether or opening in some inadequate fashion is sorely misplaced. It is well-established as medical fact that the survival rate for children who test positive for COVID-19 is above 99.99%. Teachers’ and administrators’ ages vary, of course, but the COVID survival rates overall are similarly high. There is no need for the widespread shutdown of schools that the country is facing now. Normalcy in our country is long overdue. Getting students back into schools is a good place to start.
Candy Stallworth, an Empire State News staff writer, whipped her way through a doctoral education at the finest of American higher ed institutions, noting how unoriginal, inept, and annoying many of the schools’ professors were in their robotic attempts to maintain a politically correct narrative. BTW: she hates words like “narrative”, “optics”, and “gaffe.” Other than that, her turn-offs include non-masculine men, women who hate men, men who hate men, phonies, disloyal people, and overflowing garbage cans. She likes New England clam chowder better than Manhattan clam chowder, but prefers Manhattan to New England.
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