Interaction, Structure, Creativity: Students Weigh in On School During a Pandemic
One key question is often relegated to the background when the subject turns to distance learning: What do students think of it?
Fortunately, there is a new survey available from Phi Delta Kappa International that offers insight into how students are faring with distance learning and what could be done to make the experience better for them.
Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK International) is a long-standing professional organization aimed at providing research and support to educators. The organization has around 200,000 members in its various factions, including a group dedicated to high school students interested in becoming teachers.
In response to the COVID-19 crisis and the challenges it has brought, PDK International surveyed its members and asked what issues are most pressing for students and schools. One survey was sent to students while another was directed to educators and administrators.
A third brief brings the two sets of responses together as a way to provide a “dive into the intersection between student and teacher voice,” as the PDK International website advises.
The results were discussed during a recent webinar hosted by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). CASEL’s focus is on social-emotional learning (SEL), and the webinar featured a deeper look at the PDK International survey results through the eyes of not only the group’s director, Joshua Starr, but also some of the student participants.
Starr says PDK International “really wanted to get a sense from our kids so that we could inform the conversation” about how students are coping with the current pandemic without having to rely on adult perspectives.
Let’s take a look at some of the main points Starr and his team uncovered, and how it connects to the broader conversations going on now about online learning.
A majority of students who responded to the PDK International survey say opportunities to interact with classmates and instructors, perhaps through group activities, would help them adapt to online learning. Interestingly, a desire for more interaction ranks higher for students than it does for the educators and administrators who also weighed in.
This point is echoed in a recent piece written for Edutopia by teacher and online learning advocate, Kareem Farah. During this sudden shift to remote instruction, Farah argues that “what students will miss most is the human connection” forged at school, through personal interactions.
Replicating exchanges between teacher and student won’t be easy in an online format, Farah concedes, but he does emphasize the value of making sure to try and connect with students in various ways. This can include phone calls, emails, or other interactions that allow for “personalized touchpoints” and demonstrate care and concern for students’ wellbeing.
Similarly, students have expressed support for more group interactions, perhaps as a way to maintain suddenly disrupted connections with their peers. Further tips for how to implement such strategies can be found in this article from the online teaching resource site, Faculty Focus.
An overwhelming number of student respondents to the PDK International poll say structure would help them succeed with online learning. This may be due to the fact, at least in part, that many students are grappling with so much uncertainty.
The New York Times recently asked students to share their experiences adjusting to the shutdown of school, and many mourn the loss of their routines—something they didn’t necessarily realize they would miss. Without their once-normal daily schedules to rely, some say they are struggling to feel motivated enough to complete their assignments.
Teachers may want to address this by having regularly scheduled check-ins with students, both one-on-one and with the whole class. Providing clear assignments (often, the simpler the better during this adjustment period) and even clearer communication protocols can help students know what to expect on a daily and weekly basis.
Structure can help students feel more in control of their work and their daily lives, which can help with productivity. An article written with input from teachers and aimed at parents (who now must suddenly try and be teachers, too) emphasizes the importance of structures and routines, especially for younger students who feel secure when they know what to expect from the adults in their lives.
One tip? Caregivers can use visual cues or a timer to help students transition between tasks or daily activities.
Linda Jacobson touched on the PDK International survey results for the online news source, Education Dive, and her report also includes interviews with students. Many shared ideas about how teachers could incorporate creativity into online work in order to meet students where they are and make the experience more enjoyable.
Given the pull of apps such as Tik Tok, a high school student named Merrit Jones suggested that teachers might want to use the platform as an unexpected engagement tool. “It’s short and digestible and entertaining and creative,” Jones told Jacobson, and thus could be a powerful way to deliver lessons.
There is precedent for this, as noted in a 2020 article on the Learning Lift Off website. Written by Rachel Roderick, the piece touches on the idea that many teachers, by default, have been trying to restrict students’ use of Tik Tok.
While using the popular music and dance-based app in class may have been a distraction, during this break in normal routines and expectations it might be a good way for teachers and students to connect. Roderick’s article includes tips for using Tik Tok as a teaching tool, including “teacher-made videos that students can watch again and again.”
There are many more ways to creatively engage with students, of course, including allowing students to lead the way and share what they have been doing and learning on their own during the COVID-19 epidemic.
The overall point here is that students and teachers alike are going through an unprecedented, historic experience. Taking the time to pause and ask students for their ideas, suggestions, and reflections as everyone works to forge a new path is clearly a worthwhile strategy.