“Flawed but Functional”: How Students and Teachers are Faring with Online Learning


Image courtesy of Creative Commons

A student sitting in front of a laptop taking notes.

Evan Gmahle , Staff Writer

Over a month has passed since the beginning of online schooling for Cambridge, and this period of time has allowed for a level of reflection. As the first large-scale use of online learning for most school systems, it is an opportunity to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

One of the largest concerns for students, teachers and administrators prior to the beginning of online learning was that of procrastination. There is nobody looming over your shoulder, ensuring everything is being done in a timely manner, so how will students react to this newfound freedom?

Junior Oscar Arellano has experienced this in full force, and while it has not reached the realm of missing deadlines, the issue nevertheless remains.

“It’s probably just me but I don’t start assignments until a fair bit after the day,” he said over phone. “Like I do my literature stuff on Thursdays, and Tuesdays are dedicated to doing French and band stuff rather than math.”

These delays lead to assignments collecting over the week, ending up in students having to do them all at once.

While Arellano feared his bad habits might catch up to him long-term, he did wonder: is this procrastination truly an issue now? While it may reflect on time management skills, he hasn’t failed to get anything done.

Senior Satya Thota, meanwhile, does not have the same issues. “I’ve been on top of most of it,” he said on the phone. “Sometimes I forget about an assignment for a class, but I get it done in a day.”

By spacing out assignments through the week, and prioritizing the smaller items first, Thota says there’s no issue with procrastination.

French teacher Rachel Dines, meanwhile, is on the receiving end of the problem. It’s difficult to be a teacher if the students don’t uphold their end of the bargain and participate.

As she said, students generally appear to be engaged in lessons and assignments, with anyone falling behind easily brought back by a forceful enough Remind message.

While procrastinating is a human issue, there is another possibility out of personal control: what if the technology being used doesn’t work? Or if one simply doesn’t know how to use it?

By and large, this appears to not have been a major issue. “The technology has been working, which is surprising.” Arellano said, referring particularly to Microsoft Teams and Google Classroom, the two main programs his teachers use.

Thota was more positive about it, saying “In the first Zoom call, my teacher could put up a document and was sharing screens normally. There was no stone unturned in terms of how to use technology.”

But the students only see the face of it. Teachers, like Dines, are the ones who have to set it all up.

She had a few more issues, as having to set up programs like Microsoft Teams, something foreign to most, was problematic, but she said the school’s instructions, combined with a level of intuition, were more than enough.

Being so far from the school environment may make everything being done feel disconnected from education, but to learn is still the primary focus of this program. That begs the question of how well people are learning, especially in comparison to face-to-face instruction.

Both Arellano and Thota shared the same sentiments: it’s a downgrade, but a necessary one. If the only other option was to not have school at all, this was clearly the superior choice.

“My education is certainly hampered, like my learning is not as effective as it would be with a teacher,” Arellano said, attributing the loss to the lack of one-on-one attention.

Dines gave insight into how the Foreign Language department feels about it, and it’s much the same. Foreign languages became much harder to teach with the transition online, as some of the old learning methods were rendered unusable.

One of the things she used to do in school was place students in pairs or small groups to practice French, but such a thing is much more difficult now, and she cannot do it.

That being said, they agreed the system was, albeit flawed, still functional.

Thota also gave his sentiments on the grading system, which he derided as too soft on students. “This is going to sound super pretentious of me, but if you’re in school, you have to learn it,” he said.“In classrooms, you have to do it the hard way, but online, it’s easy.”

The combination of the increase of simpler assignments like open-note tests and the baseline grade making poor grades harder to take effect discourages placing effort into education and encourages the path of least resistance, he said.

But, like with the system of learning, he nevertheless said that, while it’s not good, it’s the best thing possible for balancing the new demands of online learning with the need to teach.

While this online education is certainly a massive shift from tradition, times such as these sometimes necessitate such a thing. The only hope is that these drastic measures can be improved upon, and make everyone more comfortable as the world undergoes its own difficulties.