By Meg Jernigan, Sonoma Valley High School class of 2021
“I will finish high school in my bedroom, on a computer.” That’s a phrase I never thought I would utter when I started high school in 2017. What are the pros and cons of distance learning? I have many thoughts, because I have been doing it since last March, when students were told to go home and get online.
Upon first blush, leaving friends, the security of the classroom, and the familiar routines, was daunting. No one was good at it – not the teachers, not the students. We had never experienced anything like it. None of us knew what Zoom was a year ago, and now it is something we all use multiple times a day.
While I love my home, there are always distractions, even under the best of circumstances. The doorbell, siblings and parents on Zoom, everyday noise from gardeners, garbage trucks, and the like. And don’t get me started on the technology issues. I know our generation “gets tech,” but that doesn’t mean we can compensate for slow internet speeds and wifi issues.
Some subjects just don’t translate well in distance learning, like languages, math, and science labs. And too much time on Zoom leads to Zoom fatigue. According to the Psychiatric Times of November of 2020, “Zoom fatigue” describes the tiredness, worry, or burnout associated with overusing virtual platforms of communication. I never realized how important it was when my mother used to limit my screen time, but now I get it!
Interpersonal communications are missing, too. My generation already had lots of things to keep us from engaging, such as texting and remote video games. So telling us we can’t be together only makes us less prone to real connection.
While distance learning has definitely improved, it can’t make up for all the other high school activities that used to help us grow in other ways – physical activities, recess, social interactions.
This has definitely been one of the biggest downsides for most seniors. Many of us have spent our childhood dreaming of a senior year filled with sporting events, homecoming, rallies, prom. This has not been what has unfolded for the Class of 2021.
If this situation had not lasted for an entire year, then the pros would probably outweigh the cons. At first, once you got past the fact that we were in crisis mode, it was fun doing school in a different way. A kind of extended “snow day.” We have now been out of school for over a year, so the novelty has worn off.
I do think there is a silver lining to this education disruption. There are many different kinds of learners, and introverts may prefer distance learning. I’m an extrovert and miss the social time, but I also value my personal growth and the opportunity to organize and motivate myself with little direction.
In-person school can hold a lot of social distractions and pressures that distance learning has saved us from. For instance, bullying is unlikely. There was also a bit of fashion drama in “dressing to impress,” which sweatpants now eliminate. I don’t miss the constant comparison in real time either. “What did you get on that test?” “Do you think she wants to be friends? Does he like me?” Distance learning pretty much eliminates these pressures.
Not commuting is a benefit too – no carbon emissions, and you get to sleep in a little bit longer. Collaboration is now a standard procedure and therefore the worry of “cheating” has been replaced by encouragement to compare notes. With distance learning, graded testing is being replaced by experiential learning and teamwork.
Home-cooked lunch and full access to my refrigerator… talk about a bonus! And I prefer my own bathroom to those at school. It’s not lost on me that those of us that are fortunate enough to have a safe and comfortable environment to learn from have been able to embrace distance learning more easily.
More pros: I can vary my learning locations by going outside on a nice day or hunkering down inside if it’s cold and rainy. Zoom means you can participate from anywhere. Experiencing my family more fully has been another gift. We never had enough time for each other, and now we do. Time has also slowed down. A normal year on campus is dizzying. Now I can calmly plan for what’s next.
I have tried to see all sides that this historic event has presented. As much as I miss school, I have learned a lot this past year. Like it or not, pros and cons, we have gained tools from distance learning that will serve us a lifetime, and will help to support us in a world that is not always going to be predictable.