Remote students’ school experience is far from ideal

In classes in which the teacher has enabled their Zoom waiting room, the lobby screen stares back at you until your teacher lets you into the call. Once you enter, your classmates at school are talking and laughing before class begins. You and the other ‘Zoom students’ are projected in front of the class and sit there muted until class begins. 

For online students, “Zooming” into a predominantly in-person class presents a veritable communication barrier. Even basic class participation has become awkward and uncomfortable; online students have to see themselves projected on the board, larger than life, in front of their peers. 

Senior Maria Urban said that “I went in person one day and I saw two kids in my class projected on the board and it was so awkward because I know that’s how people see me when I’m on the zoom call.”

Worse still, should they need to ask a question, they may have to sit tight with their hand raised until they are finally noticed by the teacher. 

The inability of mics to pick up students’ voices is a consistent problem. Sophomore Patrick Byars says that “It’s nerve-wracking when I can’t hear what people are saying. It’s embarrassing if I say something that somebody else has already said. I often second-guess myself before I talk.”

“In some classes, especially the ones that were outdoors, it’s hard to hear. You don’t want people yelling to accommodate you. At the same time, though, it is kind of hard to jump into the discussion if you can barely hear what is happening,” junior Destiny Attagba said.  

Hard-to-use Jabra cameras and low-quality visuals make classroom activities even more difficult to follow. “You can’t include the teacher and the other students in the same video shot, so you have to choose one or the other which limits the visibility of the online students,” Patrick said.

The additional challenges inherent to the online learning experience have been discouraging, even emotionally exhausting for virtual students. 

“Sometimes I felt like I was forgotten and that I was missing out on stuff because of technology issues,” sophomore Nate Boyle said. 

“It’s reassuring when you’re not the only one at home because you don’t feel excluded and can just go in a breakout room with other students,” Destiny said.

Although some challenges presented by virtual learning are universal, others pertain to specific grade levels. 

Freshman Catherine Ruggeri told us that “I think it’s harder for freshmen, especially when you’re new, because it’s a lot more challenging to meet people on Zoom. It’s sad that that’s how we have to start high school.” 

Concluding their high school experience at home has also been trying for senior virtual learners. “A lot of the seniors were looking forward to the second semester, because we knew coming into this year that the first semester was not going to be close to normal. We are hoping for something better later in the year,” Maria said.

Across grade levels, students have felt a new longing for the “normal” high school years. Missing out on this is difficult for everyone, but even more so for online students who are later in the process of returning to normalcy. “You feel a little left out, like you’re not getting the high school experience that you were looking forward to,” Destiny said.  

While online students’ experience is problematic, they don’t necessarily blame their teachers or the school’s tech team. They see them struggling to make the technology work. In the case of remote teachers who rely on proctors, their experience can be as miserable as miserable as virtual students’.