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Behind the Screens: The school's approach to distance learning

By Aileen Xie, Cindy Zhao, and Nancy Zheng June 3, 2020


On March 13, following the statewide ban on non-essential travel and other COVID-19 restrictions, San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD) officially closed its campuses. To ensure distance learning would not penalize students lacking proper technology or resources, SJUSD announced its transition to online education, consisting of optional assignments that would not impact a student’s grade or credits unless at risk of failing the class. Teachers are utilizing a

Ivan Zhu Art multitude of different platforms and

methods of communicating. For example, Anu Sarkar, Science Department, has been virtually teaching her classes through Google Classroom assignments, video communication platforms, Remind and YouTube.

“I have been preparing my students for the Advanced Placement (AP) exams since the first week of shelter-in-place and have been using resources from College Board as well as my personal teaching resources to do so. My TAs are also available to provide one-on-one help. In addition, my class also runs real-time simulations of an online College Board exam so that students can get used to the testing environment at home and are aware of their limitations before they take the test,” Sarkar said. Google Meet and WebEx have become a staple mode of communication between teachers and students during the sheltering-place order, allowing them to mimic the face-to-face interaction of in-person classes. “I like that I am able to teach Macbeth to my students and being able to see their faces really helps. Video call platforms have a lot of features and options to make the sessions secure. I am fortunate that I have mature students who are not doing some of the things that I am seeing on the news , such as sharing the meeting information with their friends and bombing the meetings with inappropriate behavior or pictures,” Annie Larks, English Department, said. These video-calling platforms have features such as screen sharing that enable teachers to emulate typical class sessions. For example, many teachers have used screen sharing to present slideshow lectures and videos. Sarkar is also aiming to create breakout rooms, where smaller groups of students are able to engage in a call within the main class, for her class’s final project. Even teachers whose class subjects are “hands-on,” such as art and sculpture, are seeking out innovative ways to instruct their students.

Even teachers whose class subjects are “hands-on,” such as art and sculpture, are seeking out innovative ways to instruct their students.

“I am using Google Classroom to give them drawing or art-related activities. I also use WebEx to deliver some instruction and hold regular office hours twice a week where my students can ask me questions to feel connected to school. Specifically for my AP Art students, I have held a makeup class meeting going over changes to the portfolio requirements. The Visual Performing Arts teachers are challenged by the fact that many students do not have the supplies at home required to do regular classwork, such as art supplies, access to digital software and musical instruments,” Stacy Rapoport, Art Department, said. Among students, opinions regarding the school’s digitization are divided. Some have embraced it and learned to appreciate the new approach to learning. “Online learning is a more efficient way to learn because teachers only need to hold one class for a subject instead of multiple periods. Personally, it is also more convenient and comfortable. I have realized that educational opportunities can be much broader and more flexible than just a classroom,” Sophomore Iris Zhou said. However, others are losing the motivation to complete schoolwork due to the lack of immediate consequence. “It feels disconnected, especially because I do not have much of an incentive to participate in online classes. I miss the open discussion and group work. Lockdown has already been isolating, but online classes seem to exacerbate that when we are all working on our own. I also miss the structure of in - person classes,” Senior Rashi Ranjan said.

Despite the drawbacks of distance learning, students appreciate the efforts their teachers have put forth.

Despite the drawbacks of distance learning, students appreciate the efforts their teachers have put forth. “The resources our teachers have been giving us are quite useful, especially for AP classes, allowing us to study and continue learning even in our current situation,” Sophomore Jasper Wu said. As for plans regarding the fall, schools in Calif. cannot decide on a definitive course of action yet. Plans of staggered scheduling or limited congregation have circulated the State Department of Education and school boards. Gov. Gavin Newsom said an earlier start to the school year, with classes beginning in July or early August, is a possibility to compensate for the “loss of learning.” Universities are also grappling with uncertainty.

The Calif. State University system was the first to announce its 23 campuses would remain closed for the fall semester, with the exception of essential labs and smalls nursing courses. U.S. News report that P u r d u e University, Texas A&M University, the University of Notre Dame and statewide systems in Arizona, Florida and New Hampshire are planning to reopen. However, most colleges plan to make

official announcements in the summer. Ivan Zhu Art

In the midst of this uncertainty, state

officials and educators continue to think of ways to bridge learning gaps and provide educational opportunities for students. While safeguarding the health and safety of the students, SJUSD and the school seek to provide the best education for the student body.


Corrections: Formatting and grammatical errors fixed. on Sep. 20, 2020.

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