Let’s get reconnected

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photo by Peyton Sutch

English teacher Lisa Gendreau gets frustrated with the computer problems she is having while teaching face-to-face and Connect students at the same time.

Rolling out of bed five minutes before class, still tired, not worrying about the fact that you are still in your pajamas, you lazily walk to your laptop to begin the first day of online school. You don’t think it’s going to be that bad, but as soon as the WebEx call begins, you are met with the booming voice of your teacher mixed in with heavy background noise piercing your ears. That is one way to wake you up. 

This is life as a Seminole Connect student. By no means is everything perfect in 2020, as everyone is constantly adapting to new changes. However, the first day provided many challenges for students and teachers both with audio quality and connection issues, and there are still problems even after a month of being back in school. While life on Seminole Connect may not ever feel like normal, there are viable ways to make it better for both students and teachers.

According to digital learning specialist Lindsey Jackson, families and students had to take responsibility for learning the new system and be attentive during class. But even finding a quiet learning space to work and pay attention during class may not help, as most of the issues come from the other side of the screen. 

The major problem is the lack of communication. Audio quality issues make it extremely difficult for Seminole Connect students to figure out what is happening in class. It makes it hard to focus on school, and when not texting group chats with other Connect students asking about what just happened, students stare blankly at the screen trying to decipher the teacher’s words. The audio is either too quiet or too loud and includes a lot of background noise. It detracts from the learning experience. Coupled with feeling left out as the teacher focuses on the face-to-face students, students are in for an interesting class— one that ends in students feeling like they are watching a live stream of class, not actually able to communicate, leaving them incredibly confused. 

Instead of being restricted to the space next to their laptop, technology can assist teachers in helping it feel “normal.” Administration has given teachers wireless microphones and cameras to help close the gap with Connect students. This is a good start, but even with headsets, students have trouble hearing the rest of the class, especially during a class discussion. 

Face-to-face students can hear the Connect students, but Connect students aren’t able to hear the face-to-face students. In some classes, teachers have bought their own own equipment to help bridge this gap. In journalism classes, a conference microphone, which can pick up a wide range of voices from various distances, was bought to make the experience better for all students. If more teachers invested in this, it would help make the Connect students feel like they are actually connected to the rest of the class. 

In addition to audio problems, many Seminole Connect students have found issues with the mic and camera requirements during class. Students are overreliant on the chatbox feature in WebEx, due to the inability to turn their cameras or mics on. This can be frustrating, as teachers are not always available to read every message. On WebEx, there are some features that teachers can utilize so they won’t have to constantly look at their laptops to “check up” on their connect students. While teaching, teachers can move the chatbox from WebEx over to their second screen on the whiteboard by using the floating panel view. Even when they can not see the chat while they are talking, students in the classroom will see what is happening and notify the teacher of the Connect students’ needs. 

Connect students can also help make the experience better from their end. Making group chats with other people in the same class as you can help make sure everyone is on the same page and simulate the social environment of class. And when teachers mess up in class, students should unmute their microphones and let their teachers know that there is a problem on their end. 

Though there are severe issues with the system now, administration is providing resources for teachers and students. Equipment like computers, iPads, and webcams are provided to those who need it, and the technology department has created videos on how to navigate the different learning platforms and training for creating effective online lessons. 

Given the unprecedented times, Jackson believes that everyone needs to be open to learning in a completely different fashion from previous years. While a classroom environment cannot be brought to the home, everyone is in this together. Being understanding of the other side is important, but learning is everyone’s top priority. Though learning through a screen may seem like a foreign concept, there are ways to make it more engaging for students at home and narrow the gap between online and in-person students.

Sharika Khondaker
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