Across the world, students have faced a challenging transition from in-person classroom connection to the very limited interaction with peers and teachers on computer screens. We surveyed KHS Mustangs to better understand how Kingwood students are learning and how they feel about online learning. The survey was made available to students across all grade levels and publicized through social media. The sample size was about 16 people, and those who responded represented all grade levels (with juniors making up a slight plurality of respondents) and students across level, pre-AP, and AP/dual classes. While the sample size was relatively small, the diverse scope of student replies and opinions were cohesive enough to merit summary and analysis, and I felt it was important to understand how KHS Mustangs felt in response to this unprecedented situation.
Overall, the vast majority of students surveyed (75%) decidedly preferred in person learning to online learning. Students stated that there were “too many distractions” at home and felt that learning in a physical classroom environment held them “more accountable to [their] work,” while at home they were “struggling to find the motivation to learn information [they] once found interesting.” Many also expressed that they missed interaction with their peers, citing that “it is more interesting to learn with others around me,” that being surrounded by others “helps [them] get ideas flowing,” and that “communicating with people through a screen is disconnecting.” Students seem to prefer the structure and increased ability to focus that is found in a physical classroom. They also clearly miss the valuable opportunities to learn not only with their peers, but from them through in-person interaction.
When considering the quality of instruction, over 80% of those surveyed felt that they were not receiving the same quality of instruction as before (during in person learning). The main concerns of students revolved around teacher-student interaction. Students surveyed explained that it was more difficult to ask questions and receive explanations, that they were missing out on “one of the most important aspects of having in-person teachers… the little tips and tricks… that may not necessarily [be included in] a lesson plan” and mourned the loss of the personal connections formed with their teachers. Some also felt that not all teachers were able to “effectively teach virtually” and noted that the often used powerpoints and YouTube videos didn’t measure up to the level of instruction received inside the classroom.
While teachers have been using a variety of platforms and instructional methods to communicate and teach their students, slightly over half of those surveyed have found it to be harder than in person learning and have not found the variety of methods to be effective. Students felt that it was harder to understand without the same opportunities to ask questions as in the classroom and without the normal structure of “lecture…combined with practice.” Many often felt that that they were “teaching [themselves.]” When students learn independently from powerpoints and pre-recorded videos and then attempt to do their assignments and worksheets on their own, any questions that may arise are no longer able to be asked and answered during a lesson and then put into practice. Instead, students have to wait until the next zoom session to ask questions, dividing the learning process into disjointed chunks that make it harder to understand the material as a cohesive unit. In some cases, they deemed they were able to do this with “well-explained…powerpoints” but in other cases they were “not able to comprehend things that are more challenging” and found it to “take [them] longer than it would if there was typical classroom instruction.” It seems that students’ rating of online learning’s effectiveness and ease varies based on the students’ own learning style and its compatibility with online learning, though nearly all recognize the issues with and drawbacks of the current situation. While nearly a third of those surveyed rated online learning as easier, even despite its unique challenges, a major factor in their responses may be that 75% of respondents (including most of those who rated it as easier) felt that their current workload was decreased.
The survey also examined students’ assessments of how prepared they would feel to take hypothetical finals, dual credit finals, and AP exams. Only 13% of students said they would feel prepared to take finals, with over half stating that they would not feel prepared and the remaining third unsure. Students were concerned about whether they fully understood and were able to retain the material learned during this 9 weeks, explaining that that they “have not been able to grasp the subject,” “fully learn the material,” and that there are “a lot of things that [they] don’t know as well mainly because [they have been teaching the material to themselves.]” Additionally, students taking AP exams were equally divided between feeling unprepared, unsure, and prepared for the AP exams. Of those who felt unsure or unprepared, many cited inconsistent review as the reason, stating that “some teachers are reviewing really fast, while others aren’t reviewing at all” with others concerned about adjusting to the new shorter and online format. In contrast, for those who felt prepared, the shortened exam format and reduction of required content were sources of relief and they felt that their teachers were concentrating on reviewing for the exam, explaining that they “have been doing a lot of preparation for these tests” and that exam changes have “allowed teachers to focus more on review” with AP classes now “pretty much completely geared for AP exam preparation.” The discrepancy in student responses may be a result of the varying amounts of review done by different AP teachers, varying levels of explanation given by teachers on the new exam format, or students’ varying skill levels across exam subjects. However, despite the larger proportion of students feeling unsure or unprepared for AP exams, only 13% of those surveyed have cancelled any of their exams. Responses about dual credit finals were similarly equally divided into unprepared, prepared, and unsure. Similar to student responses about the AP tests, students expressed that they were unsure about the amount of review taking place and stated that “instruction in class is a lot easier to grasp” and that a final “over a broad topic would definitely be more stressful.” In context with the rest of the survey, the exam preparedness responses make sense. Students who felt that the quality of their education had declined and that learning had become harder would naturally feel less prepared to take major tests like finals and AP exams.
One final interesting outcome of the survey was KHS students’ overwhelming empathy for their teachers and understanding that they are trying to make the best of the difficult, but necessary situation. Throughout their responses to many of the survey questions, students, even while criticizing their current learning environment, expressed praise for and trust in their teachers. Without any prompting, students explained that they thought “teachers are doing the best they can with these circumstances,” that “[they] have a lot of good teachers who want us to finish the year strong,” and that “[teachers] do a good job of giving us available resources.” Multiple students included their belief that “The teachers are putting in just as much work if not more than they were before to make sure that we are comfortable with what we are doing” and “[school leaders] are doing the best they can.” KHS Mustangs’ optimism and adaptability, even in difficult circumstances, shone through in their responses, staying polite and understanding as they expressed their concerns about and criticism of online learning.
In summary, KHS students expressed many concerns about online learning, with many feeling that the quality of their learning had decreased, that it was less effective than in person learning, and that they were unprepared for AP tests. Despite their complaints, students remained gracious, optimistic, and empathetic for their teachers – a testament to the tight-knit relationship between students and teachers in the KHS community.