By Melika Mothena
The rapid spread of COVID-19 in the United States is not only disrupting everyday life but schooling as well. Students, parents, and teachers are struggling to cope with the transition to distance learning. No access to computers and limited to no access to an internet connection are only some of the challenges that students are facing.
Students across the U.S. are facing many challenges that are affecting their ability to complete their assignments and do well in their online classes. At home, students have to work, take care of other responsibilities, and do their schoolwork. There are many distractions at home that interrupt students’ ability to have an effective remote learning experience.
Many college students are parents as well, so they have to assist their children with schoolwork, which is time-consuming and takes away from their ability to complete their college classwork. Besides, some students have to share a computer with their siblings or children, which makes it impossible for all students in that household to get their assignments done on time. Imaginably, students who have learning disabilities would suffer greatly. They would not have access to resources that would normally be available to them.
A student at Queensborough Community College (QCC), who wishes to remain anonymous, says that she finds distance learning to be harder because “professors don’t realize they are piling up extra work instead of understanding the circumstance [they are] in.” “Staying home is suffocating because I don’t get fresh air or a break from classes and assignments. I can’t separate classes from my comfort, everything is in one setting. Because we don’t have a clear answer on when this will be over makes it more overwhelming and scary,” she continues. Students are struggling emotionally because their transition to remote learning has been extremely trying. They are overwhelmed, lost, anxious, depressed, and unmotivated.
Many students are not independent learners. They struggle to teach themselves and stay on top of their schoolwork. They need to be physically present in a classroom where their educators can lecture, explain, help, and guide them. Students have different learning styles: visual, auditory, and tactile. This remote learning is forcing students to remain at home and learn in front of a computer. Students cannot learn as they would in a classroom. Due to remote learning, students cannot physically complete lab assignments and gain hands-on experience.
A student at QCC, who wishes to remain anonymous, says that she has both positive and negative opinions regarding distance learning. “Firstly, I have much free time. I don’t need to wake up early, hurry to [the] bus station, worry [about being] late for class, and spend much time on the way to school,” says the student. “Secondly, [some professors] record videos, so I can review classes at [my] free time. This method helps me to [review the lessons] many times until I understand.,” she continues.
She says that distance learning makes it difficult or her to do well in her biology and math class. “[The] professor shows many pictures, and uses arrows to mark positions. However, some arrows are not so clear for me, and I think pictures can’t replace models,” she continues. “Also for math class, some mathematical symbols and formulas are hard to type. So my math teacher usually [uses a] mouse to draw on [a] whiteboard. It’s not convenient to draw by mouse, and [the] teacher has to change between whiteboard and PowerPoint many times in class,” she says.
Massogona Soumahoro, a student at QCC, says that she also has mixed feelings regarding distance learning. She says that one pro is that she can research and complete assignments at her own pace. Soumahoro expresses that face to face interaction is best because it is easier to interact with the professors and ask them questions that they can directly answer during the class.
Importantly, students should understand that they can still receive guidance and help by being active and contacting their professors via email, for example, with questions and concerns. Students are not always easily contacted; it is up to them to initiate communication and stay in touch with their educators.
Many students struggle to organize their time and keep up with the assignments piled upon them. According to Behar Alhalemi, a student at Henry Ford College, “I am a student who loves and enjoys classrooms and face to face learning, but with distance learning, I don’t feel like I am learning. I feel like I’m just doing school work and not really learning. Also, the time became very hectic [due to all of the] assigned assignments from different subjects. I have become a slave to my books but no knowledge is being processed.”
According to an article titled “As School Moves Online, Many Students Stay Logged Out” by Dana Goldstein, Adam Popescu, and Nikole Hannah-Jones, journalists for The New York Times, “Chronic absenteeism is a problem in American education during the best of times, but now, with the vast majority of the nation’s school buildings closed and lessons being conducted remotely, more students than ever are missing class — not logging on, not checking in or not completing assignments.”
The absence rate is increasing, especially for “schools with many low-income-students,” according to Goldstein, Popescu, and Hannah-Jones. Students who live in poverty most likely lack access to computers, reliable internet connection, and a suitable study environment. Many educators have not been able to get in touch with some parents or students via “phone, email, or any other form of communication,” they continue. The current challenging circumstances are revealing the economic disparities prevalent in our society.
Of course, we all are on the same boat, but we all are struggling differently due to critical economic realities. Many students do not have a stable income, because they have lost their jobs or had their hours cut down. For example, delivery, food truck, and restaurant workers have found themselves unemployed during this challenging period. Many other jobs have been affected as well, and many have found themselves helplessly unemployed. Therefore, many students would be distracted by their worries about paying their bills and affording food and other necessities.
Parents are trying to adjust to remote learning. They are working, taking care of the household, and helping their children with schoolwork. Many parents find distance learning to be overwhelming. Especially, immigrant parents whose first language is not English and who are not competent in the use of technology find it to be challenging. They are not able to help their children understand lessons or complete the tasks.
An immigrant mother of four, who wishes to be identified as “Amal”, says that she feels helpless because she is unable to assist her children with completing their schoolwork due to her insufficient English language. She only went to the fourth grade in her native country. Amal depends on her mother-in-law to teach and supervise her children: one in kindergarten and the other in the second grade. Like many other foreign parents, Amal depends on someone else to help her children. However, not many immigrant parents are fortunate as Amal.
According to Susan Favors, Amal’s mother-in-law, “It is extremely difficult to get children to pay attention. They have a very short attention span and the distractions at home are not making the situation any better. I am a senior citizen and suffer from many health issues, but I feel obligated to help my grandchildren. I can’t take a day off and my life is now revolved around them.” “I struggle with using the computer and with helping both of my grandchildren at the same time,” continues Favors. Favors is one of many parents who feel that students are not receiving an adequate education at home.
Many parents have more than one child to supervise. They struggle with helping all of their children with the assigned tasks at once. Some families have only one computer per household, and students are unable to log in to complete their schoolwork at the expected time. According to Favors, “It is overwhelming to keep switching between both children and keeping up with all of the assignments at the same time.”
Teachers are struggling to remain connected with their students. Many are unable to get their students to get the assignments required of them done. Again, it is difficult for teachers to reach students who might not be responding or reaching back for several reasons including, but not limited to, no internet connection, no device, or illness.
Older teachers who are not familiar with the new technology advances and are not experienced with online teaching find it difficult to cope with the sudden shift to distance learning. A professor at QCC who wishes to remain anonymous says, “This transition is easier for professors who are used to teaching online, but it is difficult for the rest of us who do not have much experience with online learning. It is easy to make mistakes and slower to get things done.”
A professor at QCC’s Social Sciences Department says, “I am only a fraction of the professor I was in the classroom. Classroom teaching is, in my view, about the live performance, predicated on the chemistry between professor and students. As the song goes, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”
Many teachers feel helpless, but they are doing their best to get students through this semester. Many educators are not prepared for online teaching. When colleges were closed due to the spread of COVID-19, educators had to change their syllabi and figure out new ways to facilitate their classes online. This transition has not been easy for any of us, but we are learning how to deal with such disruptions to education shall they reoccur in the future.