Students and teachers navigate online classes

April 30, 2020 — by Ethan Lin and Cici Xu

 Students and teachers face challenges while adapting to online classes, but some find benefits from spending more time with families. 


It is 8:15 a.m. Few cars navigate Herriman Avenue, where cars would be lined up in ordinary times. But around the neighborhood, and even as far as Santa Cruz, students and teachers are up and preparing for a new day of school. 

Some students anxiously refresh last night’s homework submission page and pull out their binders while their teachers make last-minute changes on their calendars; others put on their headphones and log onto Zoom as they wait for their online lessons to start. 

Students and teachers are gradually adapting to the mode of online learning. Because the school will remain closed through early June due to the COVID-19 crisis, teachers continuously plan their courses to provide the best learning platform possible for their students.  

Teachers choose between asynchronous learning (a menu of tasks to do) or synchronous learning (an in-person teaching session), but with a new simplified schedule that began April 20, all teachers will be required to meet for at least 15 minutes per class period. In asynchronous learning, most teachers leave videos and notes on Canvas for students to complete in their own time. With synchronous learning, teachers use live video calls for lectures or discussions. 

Science teacher Cheryl Lenz is one of many teachers who adopted the typical asynchronous style of online courses. She uses Canvas to upload videos and worksheets and Flipgrid, a platform that allows teachers to facilitate asynchronous video discussions with students and carry out interactive projects. In the second week of online learning, Lenz assigned a project for her chemistry students to record themselves doing a chore while explaining the chemistry in it. 

“It’s a very valuable experience because we get to do some research on the topic we are passionate about and also because we don’t need to sit in front of a computer,” said sophomore Katherine Chen, one of Lenz’s Chemistry Honors students. “I really want her to give us more assignments like these.” 

Aside from trying out new projects with her students, Lenz is finding a way to replicate her usual class structure with Canvas. Rather than giving out a long test at the end of each unit, she creates weekly “mini assessments” to assess how well her students are digesting the concepts. The mini assessments are shorter than her usual quizzes, which usually consists of five to six fill-in-the-blank questions. 

Since Lenz cannot control how her students are taking the assessments, she said she assumes that they are open-note and open-computer. 

“It is a little difficult to try to find something that adequately assesses the student,” she said.  

Lenz started to prepare her students for online classes a week before the school closure as she predicted the likelihood of going online, but creating online courses is still overwhelming as many teachers feel like they are spending valuable time figuring out how to implement the curriculum. 

 “For me, I feel like I’m spending a lot more time prepping for school with the online classes, learning software and just trying to make sure I have the same materials as when I was teaching live,” Lenz said.

Lenz uses discussion boards on Canvas for students to ask questions on homework and worksheets. She also schedules two optional Google Meet tutorials for students to ask her questions one-on-one. 

Even though students generally feel that online classes are less stressful than usual school days, scheduling individual appointments with teachers challenges students to overcome the fear of reaching out and be more proactive. 

Knowing that communicating with his students through Canvas announcements would be difficult, English teacher Matt Granoff chose to use synchronous learning. 

“I stuck with synchronous classes because it's the closest replication of the valuable aspects of live classroom learning,” Granoff said. “I've used [student discussion groups], so students have the chance to try out ideas, learn from each other and collectively build to a deeper or more complete understanding.”

Granoff uses Discord — a gaming software — for group discussions and daily updates. He usually starts his classes with a 15-minute Zoom meeting, where he greets everyone and explains the discussion topics. Then he divides his students into a four-person discussion in Discord, where they use the “voice channel” to talk to each other. He closes the last 15 minutes of class in Zoom to explain the homework. 

Grading essays became a challenge for Granoff as his wife works full-time at Stanford Hospital, and he has a 3-year-old daughter to care for. He said synchronous classes allow him to have a more structured schedule for his days, but he has no choice but to delay grading.

“Any time I'm not doing synchronous teaching, I'm being a parent,” Granoff said. “I honestly love it; I would totally be a stay-at-home-dad if I didn't actually enjoy teaching so much, but it is exhausting.”

The real-time, interactive meetings that synchronous learning provides and the freedom that asynchronous learning gives both cater to different curricula and students. Teachers plan their courses to their personal preference, taking both their personal life and students’ feedback into account to make sure that students will get a similar learning experience that they have before. 

 “All teachers teach differently, and these tough times have hit us all in unimaginable ways,” Granoff said. “The best we can hope is for all of this to end soon, and return back to the normal classroom setting — something that I miss very much.” 


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