Podcast: Was Distance Learning A Success?

Benti Kaur and Pamela Wagner talked to Oak Park High School students and teachers to get their take on the distance learning experience.

Benti: Hi, our names are Benti Kaur and Pam Wagner and we are reporting for the Oak Park High School Talon, and today we are going to be talking about something super topical and on everyone’s minds right now: we are going to have a discussion about distance learning.

Pam: The question here is was it a success or not?

Benti: Now the difficult thing about talking about this topic is that there’s not really a statistical way to determine if distance learning was successful or not. Really, the only way to determine if it was a success is by talking to all of the people directly involved in the process. 

Pam: Now we’re going to be talking to everyone today: Oak Park High School students from all grade levels, freshmen up to seniors, on their take on distance learning.

Benti: Now some of the people struggling the most right now are our incoming freshmen. It’s their first year of high school and they don;t really know that many people unless they went to Medea Creek Middle School. So we got the opportunity to talk to Catherine Cheng, a freshman at Oak Park High School, and here are her thoughts on distance learning. As a freshman, has it been difficult for you to get to know your peers and teachers through distance learning?

Catherine: Yes, I think it really has impacted the way we connect, especially for the new kids, that are new to the district. I kind of feel bad for them because they don’t have the ability to communicate with other people. Yeah, and when we communicate with teachers.

Pam: Next we talked to sophomore, Cadance Nobert on her thoughts on distance learning. Do you think that Oak Park has done a good job at making a virtual classroom interactive and easy to learn in?

Cadance: No I don’t, not at all. I think that out of all of the schools, Oak Park has failed worse than other schools because every other school that I know does not have an entire day of school from 8:30 to 2:30 in the afternoon so most kids aren’t even paying attention half the day because it’s just too overwhelming.

Benti: We must keep in mind, though, to each their own. While some students might struggle a little more than others, we got to hear from junior Anusha Rao who shed some light on her personal experiences in distance learning. Do you think that Oak Park has done a good job at making a virtual classroom interactive and easy to learn in?

Anusha: I would say yes. I personally have not had many bad experiences with distance learning right now. Obviously there is a whole side of connecting with your teachers and them learning what kind of a student and person you are, that’s just innately missing from distance learning, but I’m sure that’s the case in all types of distance learning. But yeah I think that so far it’s been pretty good.

Benti: And finally, to hear from a really important student, our seniors, the seniors that got to miss out on their entire senior year and are definitely missing a lot about school right now. We got the opportunity to speak to senior Prinaka Drona who shed a little light, just similar to her other peers in the freshmen, sophomore, and junior grades, about how difficult it is to stay motivated during online school. Did distance learning affect your ability to learn and retain information?

Prinaka: I feel like I felt a lot less motivated on distance learning, that’s because for tests and everything it was all open notes and all of the assignments and stuff, I was always at home so it was not like I had any plans. Overall, I was just very much not motivated, and especially with senioritis and I got into one of my schools early, I just didn’t want to do anything.

Benti: Now we definitely heard some mixed reviews from the different students we talked to, but we did ask one final overarching question to every single one of these students, our freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. We asked them, did they think, overall, that distance learning was successful or unsuccessful, and here are the responses that we heard.

Catherine: I wouldn’t say it’s been unsuccessful but I wouldn’t say that it’s been super successful. It’s somewhere in between because we’re all new to it, so there’s bound to be stuff that we learn.

Cadance: Extremely unsuccessful at Oak Park.

Anusha: I think that distance learning has been successful, but I also feel like we’re reaching this point where it’s becoming exhausting. My zoom fatigue is off the charts, at this point, because eight hours of staring at my computer, then another six hours of staring at my computer doing homework, and I’m just ending the day completely exhausted. So I think it’s been going pretty well but I’m looking forward to when we can get back in person safely.

Prinaka: I think it’s been as successful as it could be. Ultimately, we had to do distance learning and I think most of the teachers have made the best of it, and obviously a lot of the students have done the best that they can. Obviously, it could be better but it hasn;t been unsuccessful by any means.

Benti: Now, we definitely got many mixed reviews from the students we got the chance to speak to. But before we come to a decision on whether school was successful or unsuccessful, we’re missing a major part of this story. While students hold a lot of importance in the entire distance learning experience, we have a tendency to forget that there is an entire other side to this struggle: our teachers. We got the chance to speak to two amazing teachers at Oak Park High School who shed their perspective on the struggles and difficulties of distance learning this past semester. The first teacher that we got the opportunity to speak to was Mr. Jackson Hall who teaches AP Gov and CP World History at Oak Park High School, and he got to shed a little light on his experience as a teacher during distance learning.

Mr. Hall: Well, the number one struggle was the one we were just talking about, which is, it’s really hard to get to know your students. I do the best that I can, you know how it goes. I ask people about their lives and their weekend pretty much every class period, and it’s just a lot harder for students to get the motivation to respond to those questions because you gotta raise your hand, unmute yourself, you start talking but your computer hasn’t caught up yet. You gotta wait, and then you gotta talk again. It’s just harder to do those things. So, that’s the big one. And then, the two others for me is, as a teacher, I can’t reuse any of my lessons. There is very little of my lessons that I usually have planned that I can just plug and pull, and do one hundred percent the same thing. And number three, lastly, I have to grade every scrap of work. Usually, I would have the TA’s help me out with the homework packets (you guys were both in my class so you know about that). Now, I’ve got to grade all of the homework packets and it’s just a lot more work than I would usually do, for sure.

Benti: After hearing from Mr. Hall, we also got the opportunity to speak to Spanish I and II teacher, Senora Boone, and Senora Boone shared her difficulties as a teacher during distance learning. 

Senora Boone: I would say, it looks like about eighty-percent are engaged, twenty-percent are really struggling, that’s what I can say. So, I do some testing that’s more verbal so they all have a chance to excel in different ways, either, on a multiple choice kind-of modality, or a verbal response. So, I would say eighty-percent are retaining the information.

Benti: While we now understand that Senora Boone and Mr. Hall are facing the same struggles as us students are, we had to ask them the same overarching question that we asked our students: Do you think that distance learning was unsuccessful or successful? This is what they had to say.

Senora Boone: I think I’ve done the best I can. I think we would have to see how successful I’ve been when we get back in the classroom and I just go back to the normal working-day world. So I would have to say I don’t know, but I hope so.

Mr. Hall: Oh, I don’t know. That would probably be a better question to ask the kids in my classes. I think that we keep the ball rolling forward, you know? I’m doing the best that I can. I know that the kids are doing the best that they can given the circumstances that we’re in. Everybodynot having the same kind of enthusiasm and motivation, so if we make it to the last day of school – what’s the last day of school, May 27th, May 28th – if we make it to the end of the school year, and, you know, everybody is still kicking and screaming, and planning on continuing on coming to school next year, I would call that a success, I guess.

Benti: And there we have it folks, the perspectives of our fellow students and some of our favorite Oak Park High School teachers. Now, as you can definitely tell by listening to everyone’s perspectives on distance learning, not everyone shares the same views. While we thought that they might just be more one-sided, we only realized one thing: not everyone thinks that distance learning is successful, and not everyone thinks it’s unsuccessful. But what we have learned is that everyone is facing the same struggles. We’re all struggling to get motivated every day, and we’re all struggling to go to class and get those good grades. But it is comforting to know that we’re not the only ones struggling and that our fellow students and fellow teachers are struggling as well. So what we have learned, overall, is that we’re not the only ones going through this distance learning situation, but we cannot really deem if this whole experience has been unsuccessful or successful. Thanks for listening!