Looking for fairness: The discrepancies between at-home and in-school environments

The Editorial Board

Let’s face it: this school year is weird. We never thought our whiteboards would project half our classmates’ faces, we likely didn’t expect to have Owls in the classroom and we had probably never heard the word “asynchronous” a year ago. Along with all these changes, however, comes a divide between those who learn from home and those who attend classes in-person. Leveling the playing field in both the social and academic aspects of learning—especially in participation and test-taking—is necessary for an equitable learning experience for all students.

The Editorial Board encourages teachers to bridge the gap between online and in-person learners by interacting evenly with both groups of students in class discussions, offering open-note tests and quizzes and incorporating activities that encourage collaboration between both groups.

The Editorial Board finds it important to commend teachers on their adaptability and flexibility in such a trying year—students realize how many added responsibilities and pressures have befallen teachers this year and appreciate all they do. Teachers’ hard work does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. However, the Editorial Board finds that improvements can be made to the divided classroom experience and encourages teachers to implement them wherever possible.

Senior Grace Diehl, who has attended classes both in-person and from home this semester, has noticed a difference in the learning she receives when in the building versus at home. While she understands that teachers are trying their best, she finds that teachers who are teaching from the building unconsciously favor their in-person students.

“The majority of [teachers’] attention seems to be directed towards the people who share an environment with them,” Diehl said. “Remote teachers consciously involve remote learners in discussions while in-person teachers naturally engage with students in the classroom.”

Out of a school of around 3,100 students, about 1,300 have indicated that they plan on learning in-person with the remainder learning from home. On average in March, 966 students attended in-person every day.

Senior Allison Gomez, who is also attending classes from home and in-person, has also observed a discrepancy between teachers’ involvement of in-person and at-home learners as well. In some classes, Gomez said, the teacher talks exclusively to students in the classroom while occasionally directing a question at those on Zoom, and in others, remote learners are sent to do asynchronous work while talking to those in the classroom.

“If your teacher is in-person and you are online, you are a lot less likely to be called on,” Gomez said. “Most teachers are less attentive to online learners when they aren’t online as well.”

To combat the obvious discrepancy in attention given to the two groups, the Editorial Board urges teachers to make concerted efforts to include students on Zoom in classroom discussions and activities. Teachers can direct equal questions to remote learners as they do to those in-class and pay special attention to when a remote learner may be trying to participate.

In order to even out the testing environment between online and in-person learners, the Editorial Board also encourages teachers to implement open-note quizzes and tests wherever possible. David Berkson, social studies teacher, uses open-notes quizzes in his classes for a variety of reasons, especially that they allow students to engage with material on a deeper level than memorizing facts.

“[Open-note quizzes] can create a strong foundation of reading and note taking for the rest of the year,” Berkson said. “In a Covid-19 setting, they are a realistic way to encourage both quality work and academic honesty.

Sixty-two percent of students believe that students who are in-person are at a disadvantage in classes that do not offer open-note tests and quizzes, according to an unscientific Oracle survey of 435 students. Likewise, in the same survey, 87 percent of students think that all tests and quizzes should be open-note this year. Gomez, who has experience learning remotely and in-person this semester, finds that taking tests in-person that are not open-note creates an unfair testing environment.

“Students who are at home can use any resources at their disposal—students who are in-person should not be punished for being in school,” Gomez said. “These learning environments are supposed to be as equal as possible. Teachers who refuse to allow their tests as open-note to the students in-person are very delusional to the reality of online learning.”

Likewise, Diehl, whose classes all use a closed-note testing format, finds this approach to be unfair to students in the building, as students at home lack the strict supervision of taking a test in the classroom. She believes that even beyond the divided learning environment, tests and quizzes should be open-note.

“We are in a global pandemic, and it isn’t fair to expect students to internalize information the same way they did in previous years when we have so many external concerns to focus on,” Diehl said.

To bring online learners and in-person learners together, Jeff Rylander, instructional supervisor of the Science Department, splits his AP Physics students into groups where the in-person students are responsible for data collection and the Zoom students are responsible for data entry and processing.

“It’s a way to give a role to the student who is at home and a unique role to the student who is in-person,” Rylander said. “They’re working on the same lab, both are important and both are just doing different roles like how you would do a lab in-person.”

The Editorial Board urges classes that have comparable content and structure to Rylander’s AP Physics class to take a similar approach by combining in-person and Zoom students in groups. Rylander noted that many science courses already do so or offer alternatives that give both groups the same content to work with. This approach, or derivatives of it, should be followed in all subject areas to level the playing field between both types of learners.

“There’s a common experience for both groups to, again, try to [establish that] we are one class, we are not two separate classes that happen to be studying the same material,” Rylander said.

This divided educational environment is not going away anytime soon. In order to minimize detriments to any student’s learning, it is imperative that the gap between those learning from home and those learning from school is bridged.