Students, Teachers Adjust To APS Online Learning

A+Yorktown+student+accesses+Canvas+to+complete+online+classwork+from+home.+

Ainsley Burke

A Yorktown student accesses Canvas to complete online classwork from home.

Ryan Cole, Sentry Staff Reporter

Ahh Canvas. Some people love Arlington Public Schools’ (APS) go-to-tool for online learning. Others find it confusing and long for the days of decidedly more straightforward technology like Google Classroom, with less features but more simplicity. Canvas has been a divisive learning platform among students and teachers at our school, but now, like it or not, Canvas is not just an important aspect of school. It is school.

Following Governor Ralph Northam’s closure of all Virginia schools in response to the coronavirus, APS has turned to its online platforms like Canvas to continue instruction. Teachers have also utilized online video-chat services like Zoom, Google Meets and Microsoft Teams to interact with their students face to face. Between the posting of lesson notes on Canvas and these video chats, the hope was that students were able to transition to learning online without a hitch over the first three weeks of the school closure.

“The work is going well and I’m still able to learn pretty much at the same level,” sophomore Maria Soukup said.

Others, however, have found the system to be over-complicated and ineffective.

“It’s a disorganized mess … I hate this system with a passion …. There is so much confusion surrounding the [guidelines] and blatantly false rumors fly around unchecked, ” junior Will Bernhardt said.

The primary reason for this confusion, as Bernhardt points out, was uncertainty over APS’s online learning guidelines. The school system sent out an email prior to the break outlining that teachers would not grade work or introduce any new material while school was on pause. Teachers were supposed to assign work, but only with the purpose of keeping students’ brains engaged. That was the plan; but APS did a poor job circulating it and making sure that everyone knew what was going on. 

“Arlington did not have a solid plan. Some people were saying ‘do not post new material,’ others were saying ‘you can keep on doing little mini lessons’…. We had no direction when we left school,” math teacher Sukhdeep Kaur said.

This widespread incertitude has led to all of the things APS was trying to prevent (grading, testing and the introduction of new material) taking place in some capacity. APS’s guidelines were left up to the interpretation of each individual teacher.

Teachers grading when they are not supposed to has been an issue, but teachers not scoring assignments has also presented students with a dilemma. Many have found they are struggling to motivate themselves, and their drive to complete work has diminished.

“Online learning has been a really flawed experience, and I think that is really due to a lack of incentive to participate,” sophomore Will Voigt said.

After Governor Northam closed schools, APS was forced to pivot and modify their previous online learning protocol. On Thursday, the county released their official plan for the remainder of the year, stating that all classes will be graded based on quarters 1-3 and that all finals have been cancelled.

One caveat APS’s new plan did not sufficiently address is the fact that not every student has access to the tools needed for online learning. Underprivileged students without the technology to participate in classes online or do work over the internet are at a severe disadvantage as it has become near impossible for them to complete assignments. The county danced around the issue in its release on Thursday, but did not provide a concrete plan of action.

We recognize that all students do not have the same ability to regularly access and attend to learning new skills or content while at home. Secondary teachers who are introducing new content are mindful of the opportunity gap that this is likely to create and will plan strategies to address it,” APS said.

Concern over how APS students will fare next school year has arisen in recent weeks and, in the long run, it is never ideal for students to miss out on three months of instruction. It is important to note, though, that much of the end of the year is taken up by testing anyway, and therefore students will not actually miss that much instruction.

“At max, students will miss a unit or two. It’s not like half of the year has gone wasted,” Kaur said.

One thing that APS’s new plan has going for it is that it appears to be an actual plan, as opposed to the shoddy guidelines that online school has been operating under for the first month. It is clear that students will not be graded on fourth quarter assignments, and that finals will not be administered come June.

Kaur said it best, “Simplicity is the key to online learning.”