As the fourth week of Required Online Learning Experiences begins, Palo Alto High School students and teachers are learning to navigate the challenges that online learning presents.
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic brought in-person instruction to a halt, students and teachers have been forced to work completely from home. According to the Palo Alto Unified School District’s plan for Phase III of online learning, students receive a maximum of three hours of work per course at the beginning of each week. Depending on the teacher, they must complete this work by certain deadlines throughout the week.
Some students, such as sophomore Owen Rice, have found it difficult to stay on task with the freedom asynchronous learning provides.
“Having all of the week to get work done means you have lots of time to decide when and what work to do especially when you could be doing other things,” Rice stated in a message to The Paly Voice. “But that’s also the hardest part because you can be so free with it. Managing yourself in these times can be really tough.”
Shirley Tokheim, instructional leader of the English department, said she understands how the district’s online learning system can be stressful for students.
“Students have seven classes to navigate, and each teacher has their own way to organize and deliver information,” Tokheim stated. “It would make anyone anxious and overwhelmed.”
Additionally, due to the lack of structured learning, many students have struggled to find the motivation to do their work.
“It’s gotten a lot easier for me to procrastinate because I’ve become less self-disciplined and I have a lot of distractions around me,” freshman Jess Watanabe stated.
Others say they are beginning to adapt to online learning.
“Since the beginning of ROLEs I’ve definitely adjusted my work style and have created more of a routine,” senior Rebekah Limb stated. “I have tried to join more Zooms than before and have tried to do some work everyday so that I am not overwhelmed on Fridays.”
Rice also says he has adjusted to online learning by following a routine.
“At the start I kind of had the tendency to lag on work or push it out to the end of the week which wasn’t really working,” Rice stated. “But from last week to this week, I’ve been way better about scheduling out work for myself everyday and getting in a good routine.”
Even though some students are finding ways to stay focused on their work, online learning has created several other challenges. Aside from structure, school also provides students with social interactions, something many are missing with in-person school canceled and shelter-in-place in effect.
“While we were doing in-person learning, we were able to communicate with the other people in our class,” Watanabe stated. “But now that we’re doing online working, it’s very individual and quarantine has taken the socializing aspect of school away.”
Online learning has also made learning course material and seeking assistance from teachers challenging, according to Limb.
“The biggest change from in-person to online learning for me personally has been not being able to ask questions effectively or being able to have discussions with classmates,” Limb stated. “It definitely is harder to fully understand some tough concepts, and especially with APs [Advanced Placement exams] coming up it’s going to be more difficult to get help from teachers.”
Like their students, teachers have also had to adjust to online learning. According to Tokheim, online teaching has lengthened the amount of time it takes to assign work and give instruction.
“In the shift to online instruction, I’ve learned how much longer everything takes,” Tokheim stated. “In the classroom, I can give instructions for a project and then answer questions on the spot or walk around and check in with students. I can’t do the same when I’m videotaping.”
In addition to having to adjust to instructing students online, Tokheim says she misses being able to talk face-to-face with students.
“What I hear from teachers all the time is how much they miss being with students—and that’s true for me, too,” Tokheim stated. “That’s the reason I teach—to work with students! So being home for months and not having that interaction in person has been hard.”
The switch to online learning has created additional challenges for Physical Education, according to P.E. teacher Peter Diepenbrock, who says he now has to trust students to do their assigned workouts on their own.
“The biggest one [adjustment] is we have had to go to the honor system rather than be with our students and observe them while they are getting their workouts,” Diepenbrock stated. “I’ve learned that I have a lot of extremely responsible, dedicated and active students.”
Despite the many challenges of online learning, the freedom it provides has opened the door for students to complete the assigned work at their own pace, according to junior Jennifer Solgaard.
“My schedule has changed so much, I rush to get all my work done early in the week and spend Thursday and Friday on hobbies and projects,” Solgaard stated.