The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, June 6, 2021 as part of the "Raise Your Hand" column in the Insights section.
By: Kila Brown, Waipahu High School, ℅ 2023
Distance learning was one of the greatest struggles of the pandemic. In this new mode of virtual, synchronous learning, many students struggled to adapt and teachers pushed to return to in-person instruction, which will now resume in fall. Yet, in-person education may not be the best option for everyone. Although many students have struggled with distance learning, other students have benefitted from it. Throughout the new school year, certain asynchronous options should be maintained in the classroom setting to benefit students who thrived through distance learning.
People are undoubtedly eager to return to in-person teaching. Though challenges always emerge during the normal school year, students seemed to face struggles particular to distance learning. From my own observation, online learning led to students becoming easily distracted, losing motivation to complete assignments, and being overwhelmed with school and home life. However, not everything about distance learning was bad because students had the opportunity to learn at their own pace. As students return to in-person teaching, teachers should continue to provide asynchronous materials like pre-recorded lectures, allowing students to review the material and any topics that were included on their own time. Lectures in synchronous classes can often be fast-paced, and don’t allow students to fully grasp the concepts just taught before moving on to the next lesson. As a personal anecdote, during a summer Early College class, my peers and I struggled to keep up with the professor’s daily lectures and often asked him to reteach the concepts he previously taught. He adapted by posting recorded lessons online, which allowed us to gain a better understanding of the course material, without wasting class time repeating previous concepts.
Distance learning also forced schools to catch up with 21st century technology. Virtual classes require a student to become familiar with basic computer skills, explore online resources, and communicate through different technological tools, all of which will be helpful when they one day enter the workforce. Students have also become savvy in using discussion forums, classroom streams, chat features in virtual meetings, and email to forge new connections and assist each other, despite not being physically in-person. Online communication may be preferable to students because they can freely express their thoughts and ideas, clarify misunderstandings in ideas or concepts, and continue conversations even after class has been dismissed.
Asynchronous tools also offer a path to bettering students’ overall well-being. During virtual learning, teachers began to assign asynchronous work because of conflicting schedules, abrupt meetings, or to simply give students a break from sitting in a chair for a couple of hours. This reprieve from attending scheduled lectures can give students the opportunity to better balance extracurricular activities and other assignments from different classes.
While everyone may feel like distance-learning problems will be easily solved with a return to in-person learning, the academic benefits that online learning provides for some students shouldn’t be overlooked simply because of the social gains that in-person learning presents. As Hawaii rushes to return to 100% in-person learning in the fall, we should be careful not to abandon the positive changes that came through online teaching.
"At its core, education is a variable of location. This is why the problems people face with education are so varied; no two schools work the same or are of the exact same quality. Some people are lucky enough to go to great schools, while others have to fight to get into one of the few good schools around."