Editorial: Ugly truth of online learning

Position statement:  The current e-learning schedule for LT students is detrimental to their physical and mental well-being and presents an increased pressure on students to teach themselves material that is not as well explained as it would be during in-person teaching. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, LT announced that it would begin the academic year 100% online and would not be utilizing the initially proposed hybrid model (partly in person and partly online) that some neighboring schools were implementing.  In an early proposal, LT presented two possible scheduling models for its online classes.  

In the first model, students would attend classes via a block schedule, requiring attendance at three to four classes everyday except for Wednesday which would be a non-attendance day.  Class periods would be shorter than those proposed in the second model with longer breaks between classes.  In the second model, students would similarly attend classes via a block schedule.  However, students would attend online classes everyday, class periods would be longer and breaks between classes would be shorter.  After soliciting input from parents and assessing both models internally, LT implemented the second, more rigorous model for its students.  

Unfortunately, pivoting to this fully online learning curriculum has proven difficult for students since it lacks the in-person connections so critical to students’ mental well-being.   By being tethered to their computers for nearly six hours a day, students are missing the face-to-face connection they gain from interacting with their peers.  

There is also less opportunity to recharge between classes given each class period (except Mondays) is 75 minutes with only a 10-minute break between each class.  Even this 10-minute break is not guaranteed since oftentimes classes run longer than their allotted time frame.  Even as we transition into a hybrid learning schedule (in-person twice a week beginning Oct. 19), we will still be online for three of the five days per week and each class period will be about 65 minutes which is practically the same length as the online classes we are currently in.  When we are in-person these lengthy class periods will have a similar mental and physical toll on students since it can be presumed that technology will become more prevalent in the classroom while we avoid paper handouts.  

According to braincenters.com, 14-16 year olds on average can retain and focus on information in increments of approximately 48 minutes.  Furthermore, being forced to sit sedentary for multiple 75 minute periods can cause eye strain, carpal tunnel, migraines and spinal pain.  Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns.  According to Mayo Clinic, these health concerns include obesity, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. 

Students who are having difficulty digesting and understanding the materials presented online have fewer options to go over the materials in more depth. Although there is “Vita Plena time” (an hour before school to meet with teachers), this is often not one-on-one, and it is hard to zero in on specific issues with multiple people talking virtually.  Teachers might consider all tests to be “open note,” but comprehension of an online test where one cannot write directly onto the test and oftentimes has to upload photos of his or her work is significantly lower compared to completing a test that is physically in front of you.       

Additionally, some students’ computers may not have the capacity to withstand this large amount of screen time.  Computers or WiFi connections may crash at random times, causing students to miss vital information being shared with the class.  As a result, they have to self-teach  the material they missed in order to stay on top of the schedule most teachers outline on their Canvas pages.   This puts an enormous amount of responsibility on the student.  

Rather than the current e-learning model, LT should consider an approach that provides students with shorter class periods (50-55 minutes) and longer breaks between classes (15 minutes). This alternate model would include one full day off (as proposed in the first, but ultimately rejected, model) to allow students an opportunity to destress and work on their mental well-being. 
We all understand that this is an unprecedented time, and e-learning is not going away anytime soon.  However, school administrators need to recognize the mental and physical toll this is taking on students. For this type of schooling to be successful, administrators should reassess the current model and solicit additional feedback from the students themselves so that the current schedule better meets their specific needs.  

Staff vote: 17-8