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360: When it comes to remote learning, can all types of classes be taught virtually?

A deep dive into the educational quality of virtual school
360 remote learning.jpg
Posted at 6:26 AM, Apr 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-09 10:56:55-04

Editor's Note: Denver7 360 stories explore multiple sides of the topics that matter most to Coloradans, bringing in different perspectives so you can make up your own mind about the issues. To comment on this or other 360 stories, email us at 360@TheDenverChannel.com. See more 360 stories here.

As part of Denver7’s ongoing reporting on how remote learning is affecting Colorado teachers, students and parents, we are presenting different perspectives on the quality of education students are receiving while at home.

READ MORE: Remote learning: How are Colorado teachers, students, and parents making it work?

Many students have been spending less overall time on schoolwork than they would if they were in the classroom. Meanwhile, their teachers are coming up with creative ways to keep students engaged over a computer screen.

The Teachers' Perspective

Jenna Butler teaches regular, honors, and advanced placement (AP) chemistry classes at Legend High School. Right now, her AP students are trying to prepare for the AP exam, and she’s hoping to teach them the important lessons without losing the hands-on part of the class.

“To me, the lab is the fun part of chemistry,” Butler said. “Yes, I can do it (on a video), but I want them to experience it, so we’re trying to find things maybe they can do in their kitchen with stuff they have."

Butler is using programs like SMART Board and Explain Everything Edu to make videos showing notes and experiments to her students. She admitted it might not be the same as being in class, though.

“Will some kids get less than if they had sat in my class every day? Probably,” Butler said. “But some kids are taking it above and beyond."

Butler added that the district is urging teachers to alter some of their grading practices right now. She said her main goal is to maintain a relationship with her students and make sure they’re doing OK.

Elementary school teachers are also concerned about keeping their students on track. Stephanie Hultine, a fourth grade teacher at the dual language Foster Elementary School, said students are not getting half their day in English, and half their day in Spanish, as they would if schools were open.

She said they have one student who is in his second year living in the United States after moving from Mexico. She said his parents are likely not able to help him with his assignments in English.

“We’re just encouraging parents — if you don’t understand something or if this is too much, we have to communicate,” Hultine said.

Then there are the elective classes. Most districts are maintaining some form of classes like music, art, and family and consumer science. Drake Middle School teacher Kristina Herrin has been making videos with her own daughters to teach her students about cooking.

“I really think I’m going to provide an opportunity for my students to get a break from their core subjects,” Herrin said.

She said electives are also providing students a break from their computers.

The Students' Perspective:

Students have expressed concerns about the quality of the material they're receiving at home, and the expectations teachers will have when it comes to grades.

Maya Ayres, a seventh grader at Mesa Middle School, said she doesn't feel like her learning at home is the same quality as her learning at school.

“But I know my teachers are trying their best,” she said.

Ayers said she misses the ability to ask questions in real time.

“I’m trying my best to challenge myself through the assignments, but it’s kind of hard when they choose a lot of online courses instead of teaching us the criteria,” she said.

True Searle, a senior at Castle View High School, said he only spends about 10% of his day right now on school. As a senior, he has fewer classes, but he is hoping he’ll still be prepared to take the AP psychology exam.

“I’ve noticed that it’s kind of been a sacrifice not to be there every day, getting that interaction between people and the in-person discussions with the instructor,” Searle said.

In the wake of schools closing across the country, the College Board decided to administer Advanced Placement exams online this year. They will only be 45 minutes long, down from more than 3 hours.

Different Colorado school districts are also offering different guidelines on grading, with many expected to be more lenient. Some are allowing students to keep whatever grades they already had before schools closed. Schools are also giving different guidelines on how to take attendance and record student participation in remote learning.

Destination Career Academy senior Connor Logan has been attending online school since fourth grade. He said remote learning requires self-motivation and discipline, but it also allows for a more personalized education. Logan pointed out that teachers still play a big role in the success of online education.

“I communicate with my teachers almost daily," he said. "There are regularly scheduled sessions for each class. I think everyone is more than capable of doing online school, it just takes a little getting used to."