When in-person school was first canceled back in March, everything was up in the air. It took teachers weeks to figure out what exactly they’d be doing for online school. I still remember when I had heard of Zoom for the first time and I was thinking it was going to be a one-time thing for one of my classes. Back then it was planned for us to return to campus in April. This school year is obviously unique not just for starting in quarantine, but for having a uniform structure as opposed to last year’s final quarter.
On Mondays we have a “Virtual Cohort Academy” at 9 a.m. Cohort Academy is something new this year, involving students going to an assigned teacher on Zoom for a lesson, sometimes mixed in with another teacher’s class. Cohort Academy is much like a small-scale assembly over Zoom. The rest of Monday is “Asynchronous Instruction,” which has us doing assignments for our classes that are due some time before the next class day. Like our on-campus schedule, we have first, second, third, and seventh periods on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and fourth, fifth, and sixth periods on Wednesdays and Fridays. Tuesdays and Thursdays start earlier and end later than Wednesdays and Fridays for students with a full class schedule. There’s also an optional Academy period to meet with your teachers twice a week before fourth period.
When I first heard that this new online school year would be using a uniform structure with Zoom classes, I didn’t like the idea. But at the same time, I know there are many people, including myself, who need some structure in place to work. One of my main problems with this structure is that Zoom, in most cases, does not seem to be very good for teaching and learning. Many teachers endeavor to get people to talk on the Zoom call, but as many have probably noticed, it’s pretty difficult. So if students aren’t going to be engaged, what’s the point of a meeting? Sure, teachers may use Zoom meetings to give a lesson, but not only does Zoom seem incohesive for that, there are also easier ways to do that. I had one teacher last year, and a few this year, who, instead of focusing on Zoom meetings, provided video lessons along with resources we needed to take notes in order to complete a given assignment. Unfortunately, this might not work for some classes, which need live meetings. I also can’t imagine how exhausting online school is for the teachers. They have to lead several lessons a day and keep it engaging each time. I’ve had multiple of my teachers talk about “Zoom fatigue.”
Another main problem I have with this schedule is that it’s too complicated. It’s difficult to objectively describe the schedule in a succinct manner. If you don’t go to Academy on Wednesdays and Fridays then Tuesdays and Thursdays start a whole hour earlier. And if you don’t have a Period 0, then they also end later. The time that periods start and end don’t line up, meaning both students and teachers have to keep track of when their classes start without any consistency. I think what makes it worse is how Academy is at the beginning of the day. I have to keep several different alarms to wake myself up since there’s such little consistency in the schedule. Fortunately, the school seems to have gotten into somewhat of a groove now, but it remains confusing for both teachers and students.
If I were to change the online class schedule, I would simplify it, not continue to add on to it. I’d keep it as a block schedule, but make the “bell schedule” more uniform from day to day. That way students and teachers don’t have to memorize the unique start times for each class. Also, Zoom meetings should not always be mandatory. I think that unless the teacher has some class that is structured around a live lesson or discussion, they should be able to have their class time be more like what our Academies currently are. Teachers could post assignments and resources on Canvas, let their class period be a time for the students to join if they need further help, and measure attendance by how many people turned in their assignment. There are a lot of ways for our current structure to improve, but unfortunately we cannot know what is sure to work since we do not have much experience with online learning. It’s cliché at this point to say that things are “unprecedented” nowadays, but we can only really gauge what works for online learning using the last quarter of last year and the first quarter of this year.