Online learning proves challenging for teachers

Student engagement becomes difficult outside the classroom


JJ Hill/ file photo

Senior Sophie Criscione spends time last term working on an illustration during journalism. During the shut down for coronavirus, students are spending much more time on devices managing their academic pursuits.

While the world seems to be falling apart, schools everywhere are working hard to maintain some semblance of normalcy for their students.

Like many other schools in California, Granite Bay High School is no longer in physical session, but is continuing to conduct school online. 

Every teacher and every student are handling this change differently, but the general expectation is that as much of the educational experience as possible be retained.

“Obviously the efficacy of online school is going to vary from student to student and teacher to teacher depending on how much time and energy they invest in getting the most out of it,” said AP Physics teacher Andrew Phillips. “I’ve read some research on this topic, though, and it estimates learning online to be about 30% as effective as in-class learning. Which, you know, sucks.”

The low retention rate may be a result of students not being able to interact with the curriculum as much as before.

“I can assign an online lab and students can do it, but it’s hard to know if they’re really getting anything out of it without being able to have a conversation,” Phillips said. “For that reason I think online learning will require a lot more metacognition from the student’s end, so they can try and self-evaluate whether they’re really understanding what’s being presented, and, if not, identify what questions they need answered by teachers.”

Phillips has had to make several changes to his curriculum in order to ensure the maximum retention rate from students.

“My general pedagogy is more to guide student thinking through questioning than to just present raw information via lecture,” Phillips said. “That’s pretty much impossible to do now. So everything is lecture or video-based, which I really don’t enjoy.”

AP Literature teacher Christy Honeycutt is also experiencing some difficulties as she makes the transition to online learning. 

“None of our students at GBHS signed up for online classes, so this is a difficult transition for students and teachers alike to do something we’ve never done before in a time of high stress,” Honeycutt said.

Not having face-to-face time with students to see if they’re truly grasping the material and understanding my feedback is the biggest challenge for me.

— Christy Honeycutt


While Honeycutt has not had to make any major changes to the curriculum, she has had to change everything about the way she teaches it.    

“The material and standards are the same, but the delivery, activities, and assessment are different,” Honeycutt said. “I’ve had to change my lessons to have more answering of study guide questions, as opposed to full class discussion and small group activities.”

Because of the nature of online learning, the effectiveness of the education is more about the student than the teacher.

“Compared to the classroom, online learning has placed a larger amount of individual responsibility on the students,” senior Emma Broers said. “Our teachers aren’t physically there to remind us to do this or that, and whether we watch their videos, join the Zoom calls, or turn in assignments on time is all up to us. 

Like many teachers, Honeycutt wants to ease that weight of learning on the students by making her curriculum as engaging as possible.

“I’m trying really hard to have class Zoom sessions where we can discuss and clarify ideas, but compared to Jenga, Socratic Seminars, the Literary Dinner Party, etc., it doesn’t feel like my class is anywhere near as engaging as it was, which makes me sad,” Honeycutt said. 

Although the learning may not be the same as in class, students are very grateful for their teachers’ efforts. 

“Teachers are doing a good job by adding a lot of Zoom meetings and having personal assignments that allow students and teachers to connect,” senior Cole Fowler said. 

Both teachers and students are working hard to do their part, but with everything going on around the world, it can be difficult to find motivation.

“As seniors it’s kinda tough to stay motivated,” Fowler said. “There isn’t that much, it’s all intrinsic and just your willingness to learn and finish strong.”
  Phillips can relate to the lack of motivation, but he chooses to look on the bright side. 

“What keeps me going is believing that we all have a role to play in getting through this crisis,” Phillips said. “We owe it to ourselves, our neighbors, and our country to do our jobs as best we can. This is how we can honor those on the front lines – the nurses, doctors, emergency workers, and those that are sick.”