Editorial: The Online Student

By Lucas Walters

As people around the world try to acclimate to a new “normal”, questions sometimes swirl through our heads, even throughout times that used to be relaxing. It’s a stressful time to say the least. With that, one might assume that interpersonal conflict would abound as people become more irritable with the stress of the situation. It seems, however, as if a different dynamic is beginning to materialize.

Upon interviewing a few Upper School students here at Oak Hall, I noticed an odd detail. The goal of interviewing these students was to be able to gauge attitudes surrounding online learning and in-person learning. In seeking this information, I came to the realization that none of the people I had talked to describe their experience — online or otherwise — as bad. It’s true that during the conversation, they talked of improvements that could be made. For example, many students expressed concerns about the internet connection quality at the school, and the unreliability of the video cameras teachers are using. Those same students also expressed annoyance with the issue of low video quality that makes it hard to see what’s on the board. But for every person that I spoke with, these remarks were prefaced and/or followed by lenience, kindness, and understanding that this situation is a difficult one to navigate.

It seems clear to me that there is a very particular attitude that is emerging. An attitude that is common to a large majority of all of the students. It’s an attitude of lenience, and ability to work with others to try and make the best out of a tough situation. No one that I spoke with told me that everything was going perfectly. Most said that things were going “pretty well” and acknowledged the problems we are currently facing. Issues with device connectivity, choice of online platforms, video quality, and many others were all mentioned. Nobody told me that this meant that the school was responding poorly to the situation, nor that they were responding poorly. 

I also took some time to talk to some of the Upper School teachers and get their thoughts regarding the in-person versus online learning dichotomy. These teachers echoed similar concerns as the students, but they were able to extrapolate further on many of the concerns, given that they have a larger pool of students that they hear from regularly. For example, Upper School Spanish teacher Libby Karow noted that many of her students were having “[i]ssues of WiFi quality, connectivity, ability to access some documents,” she said. In addition, Krystal Serrano, Upper School Spanish teacher, mentioned that some of her students were having a “tough time hearing the other students or with the technology glitches that come with doing all classes online.” I feel that many teachers, especially those I spoke with, will be happy to hear the general consensus of lenience and understanding from the student perspective, as many teachers seem to value this response more than the students realize. Upper School history teacher Charles Wharton has faith in the student’s ability and resilience to overcome the hardships they are facing. “Hopefully, [the students] can continue to push through the challenges, as well as have patience with us teachers,” he said. “For teachers, it is not easy to try and connect with both in-person and online students as well as do additional tasks like cleaning desks and supervising lunch or morning duty sometimes,” Wharton continued.

In summary, issues with technology notwithstanding, there is a positive and constructive mood pervading the Oak Hall community, even though times are difficult. “All students still seem to be focused on trying to reach their full potential — I have been impressed by how hard my students are working this year and appreciate their strong efforts,” Wharton noted. Clearly, students remain committed to doing the best they can, as do teachers. Karrow expanded on Wharton’s positive outlook. “It is all possible, it just takes effort, patience, and commitment to make the experience as good as it can be for everyone no matter where they are sitting.”