I would have never thought I would be sitting in front of a computer screen, at home for approximately 6 hours a day, uttering five sentences total, and getting no social interaction. However, this was the reality we were all faced with when the pandemic hit, without a chance to blink or say goodbye to our old school lives. Some of us may have clicked with this style of learning, while others were counting down the days until we could finally step foot into the school again. Whichever way you felt about our district’s form of comprehensive distance learning, do you know how it has affected our learning and well-being for the past year?
The social aspect of distance learning was non-existent. As teachers were not allowed to require any student to turn their camera on or unmute, this turned what could have been fun, interactive, immersive learning into dry lectures. Even in an attempt to force us to engage in break-out rooms, more often than not, not a peep was heard. Students could easily hide behind their screens. When partner projects were assigned, it wasn’t like we could go see each other in person. When unfamiliar faces were spotted, it wasn’t the most comfortable place to get to know someone and ask them questions with five to twenty other people listening in on the conversation. No one specifically is to blame for this lack of interaction, we have the pandemic to blame for that. Home circumstances are unknown and widely spread from ideal to inadequate for students, so it isn’t their fault if they don’t feel comfortable turning on their camera or unmuting in the surroundings they were provided with.
Living conditions vary from every household, but in many cases, a student’s home life could hinder their ability to focus and learn at their best. The physical environment is a factor that can support one’s learning or block them from thriving. With distance learning, the environment we were learning in for a year was not ours to choose. Whatever situation we were in when the pandemic began is what we were stuck in and expected to learn in. For some students, this was completely doable and they were able to attain the resources they needed and work from a quiet, functional, non-distracting space. Many students were forced to work with what they had. A loud sibling, working parents, younger kids that needed care, not enough materials, no wifi, not enough food…. These students deserve to be applauded for their determination through this time. Not only did they do school from home, but they also found a way to accomplish what they needed to in whatever conditions they were resided in.
Distance learning produced an uproar in screen time, and although computers were a great tool to help kids learn, it was negatively affecting sleep. Blue light radiating from screens has an effect that goes beyond the surface of the eyes, it disturbs circadian rhythms. According to The National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information, blue light causes higher alertness which interferes with sleep cycles, also known as circadian rhythms. Blue light suppresses the amount of melatonin (sleep hormone) produced, leading to less sleep, not at the fault of teenagers, but the fault of their screens. Sitting in front of a screen for distance learning in addition to recreational activities exposed brains to much more blue light than before the pandemic, creating undefined sleep patterns. Throughout the pandemic, kids feeling tired and unmotivated was common enough, and distance learning was adding screens to the continuous list of contributing factors.
Distance learning was not only physically and socially taxing, but it was a mental and emotional marathon too. Transitioning from using computers occasionally at school and home to navigating a whole new system was rough. There wasn’t much guidance available to students, as this was students’, staff, and parents’ first time pursuing education online. Students had to figure out how to ask for help when they couldn’t be face to face, which was a definite switch from in-person school. On top of figuring out how to keep track of assignments, sign on to zoom calls correctly, remembering to do homework, and not getting social interaction, distance learning provided a whole new realm of challenges. As Covid cases rose and families were struggling, students had to think about their grades and if they had an assignment due that day. To say the least, distance learning was less than desirable for many.
Reflecting on distance learning in the last year, it’s clear it has affected all cylinders of health; physical, social, and mental. It was an environment where not many social interactions were had, leading to a lack of social wellness in many lives. Also, for kids who had an unsuitable living space, it became challenging for them to get security and a quiet workspace, both resources that nurture students’ learning. Screen time was necessary for distance learning, inducing lower amounts of sleep for many students, and mentally, distance learning was a whole new obstacle course waiting to be conquered. Let’s embrace the assets of in-person school to make it through the rest of this bizarre year with heads held high.