Government teacher Matthew Malkovich teaches his online students through WebEx, while juggling his face-to-face students at the same time. (photo by Peyton Sutch)
Government teacher Matthew Malkovich teaches his online students through WebEx, while juggling his face-to-face students at the same time.

photo by Peyton Sutch

Weighing the options

September 1, 2020

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Seminole Disconnected

Students deal with the ups and downs of virtual learning

The beginning of a new school year is always a challenging endeavor for students and teachers. Coupled with a raging pandemic, this year brought many unexpected surprises. While face-to-face kids dealt with white desk dividers and face masks, students who chose to learn virtually through Seminole Connect are experiencing their own issues and glitches through WebEx, Seminole County’s virtual teaching and video conferencing platform. 

Not even two minutes into the first period, students were worried about their decision to do school virtually. Not only were they cut off from their peers, but as soon as class began students experienced audio feedback and muffled voices. No one could hear anything the teacher or the students in class were saying because their voices were incoherent over the webcam. Even now the problem is not totally fixed.

“If the teacher isn’t standing near the computer we can’t hear anything she is saying, or the class either.” said sophomore Hallie Yonker, a full-time Seminole Connect student. “Especially in my physics class, where she lectures the whole time. It’s hard to keep up.” 

While the school is working to provide teachers with headsets so students can hear better, that may not fix the problem with class communication as a whole. Even with the microphone, no one over Seminole Connect is able to hear anyone but the teacher. There is a chat box, junior Andrew Huddleston, a full-time Seminole Connect student, explains that it can be “hard to articulate things through the chat.”

“As soon as I type out my answer, the conversation has already shifted to something else and the whole class has moved on,” Huddleson said.

Not only are class discussions made difficult because it is hard to hear in-class banter over the faulty microphones, it is further limited because some teachers tend to check the chat sporadically. 

 “Most of my teachers either ignore us if they have face-to-face students, or just never check the chat,” Yonker said.

The situation is circumstantial, and the need for constant teacher presence depends on the type of class. Senior Emily Taylor, a full time Seminole Connect student, takes a variety of classes, yet only finds certain ones constitute attention.

“Teachers checking the chat is not really a huge issue for me. It only really gets difficult in classes like math or forensics because there is less participation and the teacher is usually teaching a lesson rather than having class discussion,” Taylor said.

Social media programs such as Snapchat and Instagram have become quite useful as a way to combat miscommunications or confusion. Students have made group chats and connections to relay information back and forth to each other. 

Questions arose as to how the school district would handle things such as increased risk of cheating, and teachers are evaluating different options. Easy access to the internet and unsupervised test-taking is the major concern for teachers. One feature on eCampus allows teachers to monitor the test taking process online, and they are able to see if the student clicked onto another tab, and for how long. Likewise, most assignments that are submitted online are put through a plagiarism checking website called Turnitin.

While teachers worry about the potential of cheating in Seminole Connect, the students were more concerned with the social aspect of virtual school. SCPS has made an immense effort to make the school transition as safe as possible, and a big selling point to returning to “regular” teaching in person was that people would finally be able to see their friends again, and interact in a learning community once more. 

Not all have opted to venture out of their quarantine caves, choosing instead to stay perpetually in pajamas and listening to the Mama Mia soundtrack on repeat. Virtual students, such as Yonker, feel dejected at the fact that they can’t see their friends as often as they’d like.

… I get a little sad and left out,” Yonker said, “but I know I made the best decision for me.”

 Although staff and students have run into some roadblocks, Seminole Connect students still find many positive attributes, and these challenges are dissipating as the days progress. Students can wake up at 8 o’clock, eat Doritos during class, and leave class early. Not only this, but online learning comes naturally to people like junior Kat Bell, a full-online student.

 

“After my last class I don’t even feel the need to stop, I just keep going and doing work. Having to stop the train of thought and drive home interrupts my process, so it’s easier for me to just work online,” Bell said.

Now that teachers have switched to a mostly online class without paper and all online turning in, students have noticed that this is an asset, and that it is “easier to plan out the week,” Taylor said.

Senior Sacha Gilbert also looks on the bright side of her situation as a hybrid student, admiring that fact that it is easier for her to stay on pace and speak-up in class discussions.

“It’s a lot simpler for me to ask questions because I don’t speak out that much in person, so when I have a question it’s easier to type it, knowing the teacher will eventually see it,” Gilbert said.

Those students enlisted in Seminole Connect can reevaluate their decision at the end of this quarter, or after the first 9 weeks. They can either stay home with Netflix and Webex, or they can choose to return to campus with a mask in one hand and a “stay six-feet away from me” sign in the other. 

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Going with the flow

The pros and cons of returning to class face-to-face

At the end of last year the struggle was real for junior Miah Broderick. Due to the fact that she is a hands on and visual learner, the whole online experience was really hard for her to get a hold of her teachers for the help that she personally needed, as well as understanding the material, Broderick said. For expectations this year, she noticed a lot of change. She expected to be more involved with school activities but now, she lost the ability to connect with people and learn the traditional way she is used to. 

Prior to school starting, Seminole County Public Schools offered four options. Students who chose the in-school learning option found new additions to classrooms, making for a less-than-traditional experience.

Safeguards were introduced in the SCPS 2020-21 Reopening Plan: teachers arranged the desks in ways that physically distanced from each other, added plexiglass in high traffic/contact areas and plastic partitions in most classrooms, and everyone is required to wear a mask unless eating or drinking.

“All of the new things and rules they have had to add does not make school feel the same at all,” sophomore Mallory Precord said. “But I get why we need all of it to keep the campus safe.”

After a long summer in quarantine, many students longed to get back to a normal schedule to see their friends, learn, and feel productive, though they did not know what to expect once they returned. Broderick came back because she believed it would be easier to learn in a classroom environment rather than being behind a screen. 

I am a visual learner and I like being able to ask questions right then and there in class, when the attention is on you,”

Interacting with the classroom seems to be what students like most with face-to-face, but the new changes have made that challenging. Group work is difficult or impossible in most classes because cardboard and plastic partitions are on each distanced desk to separate students. 

“I wish they[teachers] would put us in groups with them[partitions] up so we can actually talk and discuss things together instead of it being on a discussion board on ecampus,” Precord said. “The most difficult thing is talking through the masks because it can be hard to hear other people when they are talking.”

Outside of the classroom, students are having issues with lunches and the “Lazy River.” Since social distancing is mandated, sitting next to one another during lunch is prohibited, with seats marked with red tape, warning students to stay spread out. In addition, students have to follow the lazy river walkway to have the least amount of traffic and contact around campus. Although the halls are not as crowded because of the reduction in the number of students on campus, trying to remember the route has been difficult. 

Students have been asked to follow the one way arrows around campus, and administrators are present in hallways and courtyards to guide students. 

Lunch, which is normally a social event and a break from all the rules, is now what Rosenblum thinks, very hard. Fitting multiple people at a lunch table is difficult and she can not truly sit next to a friend at lunch. There is so much space between people so it is challenging to seat multiple friends at one table. 

Returning students did not know what to expect from school. This year has its positives and negatives, but just like everyone else, students are doing their best to work with what they have got.

“I would say that things that are going well, teachers are trying to keep you safe by making you wipe things down before and after classes, ensuring social distancing and the use of masks,”  Broderick said. “I’m just trying to go with the flow.”

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