Before I begin, I want to take a moment and pay tribute to the medical staff, essential workers, and countless other heroes who stand in the front line against coronavirus. They are ordinary people like us, but they risk their own lives to protect ours when facing such a pandemic.
Seven months since the eruption of the coronavirus, it is wonderful to see society returning to its norm slowly yet steadily. September arrived, and for the new school year, Severn adopted the hybrid learning model; that is, only half of the student body is present at school each day, while the other half stays home and virtually attends the class. However, a small group of students have chosen to be fully remote and attend all classes from home. It has been almost two months into the new semester, and on behalf of this group of remote learners, I want to share our experience and thoughts in this article.
Many of you still remember the period of remote learning we had last April and May, so the fully remote learning mode is not entirely new for us. Instead of getting up in the morning, getting dressed, and heading to school, we sit down at our computer and launch Zoom. The fully remote learning mode does come with bonuses: there is no need for commute time to and from school every day, and we have more freedom over our schedule, but there are challenges. I asked several students who are fully remote about the challenges they face entering this new school year, and most of them said it is hard for them to remain sedentary and stare at the screen for hours while staying focused. Some of them also mentioned the lack of access to class materials, such as supplies for art classes, and the lack of in-person interaction with teachers and peers.
Severn has purchased smart boards and Swivl devices so that students on Zoom can see and hear their classmates in class, but sometimes it is hard for those of us learning remotely to hear and participate in discussions happening in the classroom. For the international students at Severn, myself included, the time difference is another difficulty to overcome. China Standard Time is twelve hours ahead of Eastern Time, meaning a typical day of class begins at eight at night and ends at three in the morning. Usually I go to bed as soon as I finish all the work for the day, which is around 5 am, and I sleep through most of the day until right before the next day of class begins. While this may not be the most elegant solution to stay awake, I speak for myself when I say my caffeine intake is at an all-time high over the last few weeks.
Fortunately, Severn has provided some much-needed help to the students. Starting on October 5th, there are no more six-period days in the schedule. Instead, A Period takes place every day at the end of the day. The five-period rotation schedule certainly takes some stress off our shoulders because we no longer need to sit in front of our desks for six classes in one day. In terms of class content, many teachers are putting all of their class handouts and slideshows online or in emails to the students so we can have them on our devices or print them out. Similarly, office hours are also provided through Zoom, so remote learners can also have conversations or get help from teachers.
Finally, I asked Ms. Straub if she has any advice for those of us who are not on campus. Here are her responses:
- “Be intentional about movement. Get up and move your body whenever you get the chance. Exercise regularly.”
- “Proactively seek connections with your peers and teachers. A lot of the causal interactions that usually happen during in-person school aren’t available to remote learners. Certainly, teachers know this and are trying to stay as connected as we can with each of our students. But remote learners can also take it upon themselves to contact teachers, text or Snapchat friends, and reach out to one another just to check in. Humans like to feel like they are part of a group. You don’t have to wait for the group to come to you.”
- “Continue to offer feedback to your teachers about your remote experience. Some teachers will ask explicitly for this information. But even if they do not, Severn welcomes input from fully remote learners. This is new territory for all of us, and communication is important to help us navigate these unusual times as a community.”
- “Remote learning can be depleting. This learning mode requires an extra level of concentration, prolonged exposure to screens, and cooperation from the Tech Gods—who are sometimes temperamental. Get to know your own strengths and the things that fill you up, and be purposeful about incorporating those into your regular routines. Like to read? Make sure to read a few pages here and there. Enjoy cooking? Make dinner every now and then. Is ‘appreciation of beauty and excellence’ a strength for you? Get out in nature. Is love a strength? Make sure to nurture relationships. You get the idea. Prioritize moments and practices that bring you joy and energy.”
Of course, being fully remote is not the best mode of learning, but it is the best way for us remote learners to learn while remaining in the comfort of our homes when we are unable to be at school physically. I hope this article shines some light onto the challenges you face and gives you a few pieces of advice that you can use if you are a fully remote learner. And I encourage you to offer a helping hand to your friends or classmates who are fully remote to overcome any challenges they may have.