On Sept. 1, Chemistry teacher Elizabeth McCracken ran into a Schoology gradebook issue — she could not post Edpuzzle video lectures for her students without them being worth points. In an effort to solve the problem, she spent office hours that day with the students who were having trouble. Due to remote learning, problems regarding technology, similar to what McCracken endured, have arisen for both students and teachers alike.
“[Distance learning] has impacted my Chemistry classes because of lots of reasons,” McCracken said. “I’m using Schoology [and] it has been very challenging for me. I’m sure that it will be terrific once I learn how to use it, but the learning curve for me feels very slow.”
Schoology, the new learning management system for the Fremont Union High School District this year, has been implemented to become the central hub for students to complete their assignments and for teachers to leave feedback. However, many students, such as sophomore Rohan Vittal, didn’t accept Schoology with open arms and still prefer last year’s learning management system, School Loop.
“[School Loop] is a lot more intuitive and easy to navigate around,” Vittal said. “The interface [of Schoology] is just confusing and hard to get around.”
With some teachers not buying into the new technology platform, Vittal explains that many of his teachers are trying to implement new platforms — including Quizlet, Remind, My Pearson Realize, Google Classroom, Whiteboard.fi and Kahoot. He thinks Schoology should not be one of the central platforms for distance learning, but rather, Google Classroom. Since many teachers use various platforms to teach, Vittal has found it to be slightly overwhelming.
“[It would be better to] just have everything coordinated better in general,” Vittal said. “Even the same class can be across five different platforms. It would be great if it was all in one or two.”
This school year has its fair share of new challenges, even for teachers with years of experience, because of the quick shift from in-person to distance learning in March. Even experienced teachers like Spanish teacher Viky Morales, who has taught in the district for eight years, had difficulty adapting.
“[Distance learning] is very different,” Morales said. “The first five years of [one’s] teaching [experience is when] you’re creating stuff and figuring stuff out. Then after the first five years, it was OK — you modify [and adapt to change]. But then with remote learning — it’s like our first year of teaching all over again.”
After transitioning to distance learning, teachers attempted to meet the same standards as they did during in-person classes. McCracken feels that a big issue with distance learning while teaching a science course like Chemistry is the lack of hands-on labs.
“My class has always done an enormous number of labs and [the Chemistry students] love labs,” McCracken said. “We [did] one once a week and the students are constantly having their hands-on equipment. [Labs made] class as tangible, full and understandable as possible, so it is my job now to find ways to share that experience in a way that I can [be] as close as possible to the real thing.”
McCracken is looking to fill the void of hands-on Chemistry with online tools. She will be trying out interactive simulators, Gizmos and Pivot for her Chemistry classes. In addition, she may give instructions so students can perform some labs at home.
Many other issues are also coming up during distance learning, including unstable internet connection. While having a reliable internet connection is essential to online teaching, McCracken is teaching from her classroom since she is not confident about her internet at home. She feels there are both benefits and downsides to having Zoom meetings in her classroom.
“[Going to school to teach] is not as comfortable as being at home,” McCracken said. “I love my classroom and it makes me feel like I’m with my students as in the role that I’m used to as a teacher. So there’s pros and cons of both, but I have absolutely had internet issues.”
Morales has had a few issues of her own, in Zoom calls particularly. From being muted while speaking to having problems with screen sharing, she revealed that her biggest Zoom mishap was accidentally ending the call one minute before class was over.
“[Instructors are] moving so quickly [during Zoom calls],” Morales said. “Teachers not only have to give the lesson, we [also] have to speak and instruct students — we’re multitasking or pressing this button or that button. So far I’ve been lucky that the worst thing that has happened, for me personally, is that I accidentally ended a meeting. I was trying to get students out of breakout rooms, and what I ended up doing is I accidentally ended the whole class.”
With all these issues, Morales appreciates other teachers during distance learning. She thinks that teachers are working exceptionally hard and for longer hours than usual. Distance learning has meant they stay on the computer for large portions of the day.
“I think teachers are just trying their best and they’re doing a really good job considering the situation,” Morales said. “There’s only so much [we can do] and we can only go so fast in terms of learning how to teach remotely.”
For Vittal, the biggest challenge of distance learning is understanding new content. He says he understood class material better in in-person learning as it was easier for him to communicate and interact with peers.
“[With distance learning] it is a little bit harder to grasp the content and [it] requires more explanation,” Vittal said. “It’s harder to get an explanation the first time during class, and [there’s] less interactive content [during online learning]. We don’t really have any interaction with people outside of classes, with not that much communication.”
Yet, despite all the complications surrounding distance learning, Morales still appreciates the positive aspects. Having classes from the comfort of her home is one thing she values.
“Online learning has been wonderful and I personally prefer online teaching right now,” Morales said. “I feel like there is more flexibility in the sense that I’m in my home and we’re doing [everything] at home. It’s [also] more comfortable for students and for the teachers to be doing things at home — you have everything you need here at home.”
Morales also wants to bring to light an often understated aspect of many teacher’s lives. Many teachers live far from Cupertino and take long commutes to reach school. Morales lives in the East Bay, so her commute takes three hours. With distance learning, more teachers no longer need to commute long distances, which saves time.
While many wish for in-person learning to return as soon as safely possible, McCracken says she will take valuable lessons she learned during this difficult time and use them going forward.
“I’m asking students to share more about themselves in ways that I get to know [my students] that I haven’t tried all in person,” McCracken said. “I asked [them] to create that video introduction for me and I loved watching those. I haven’t done that when the students were in the classroom ... Now that I know that I can do that, I will do it when we’re back in the classroom too. But absolutely, remote learning has pushed me to think of ways that I can reach out and connect with my students and get to know them better. And I will take those back into the classroom.”