The All-Virtual Learning Experience (at Friends)

Katie Bryan, Staff Writer

There are 26 students and teachers in the Wilmington Friends high school that are not participating in the two-day hybrid option (all-virtual students/teachers or remote learners). On Thursdays and Fridays, when the hybrid students are in an in-person class, the teachers try their best to create asynchronous work that correlates to what the students are doing to class for the remote learners. Many different teachers have approached this in different ways. Their goal is to try and replicate the experience that hybrid learners are getting. But, that is much easier said than done. This is uncharted territory for everyone. 

Students and the few teachers who are remote as well all have different reasons for why they have made the decision not to partake in the hybrid set up. Some of them are in high-risk groups for COVID19 or have high-risk people in their households that they can’t risk giving COVID19 too. Gracie Gaskell ‘24, a remote learner, said, “I know that I miss out on important discussions that happen in class among the students.” Students have said that the thing they miss out on the most in terms of academics is the in-class discussions that occur on Thursdays and Fridays. Another form of interaction that the students miss out on is the informal communication between friends and even between students and teachers. Katy Kenney, the ninth grade English teacher, said “The interactions between the teacher and the students between classes are lost, so I can’t get to know virtual students as well as I would like too.” 

Many students are experiencing that teachers are all doing different things when it comes to Thursday and Friday’s lessons. Some teachers send recordings of just themselves explaining the lesson to the students who couldn’t be in the class, some record their classes/discussions and post them on the website, and some just post the homework with more explanation. Mateo Niiler ‘24, an all-virtual student thinks that “the lack of communication between teachers about how they are handling teaching virtual students makes things difficult on my end.” Some students like the fact that every teacher does it a different way but some students think it makes it way too confusing to find what they need to learn because it is in a different place every time. A big positive with the way that virtual students are learning is that if any hybrid learner gets sick it is very easy for them to start learning virtually because it’s easily available for them. There is also a small subset of teachers who are all virtual themselves and they will zoom into the classrooms and teach virtually from the smart board with another teacher in the physical classroom helping out. In those situations, students will zoom in along with the teacher synchronously to participate. 

Teachers are in a very difficult situation because the majority of their students are in person but they also have to come up with lessons for all virtual students. Bradey Bulk, the upper school french teacher, said “I try to create a parallel activity for the at-home learners that will replicate what is happening in class which usually takes a lot of extra planning.” Each teacher’s class is different, the science and math classes are usually easier to convert to an all-virtual group because they include fewer discussions and more lessons and problems. History classes, language classes, and English classes are the most difficult to convert to remote because a big part of the way kids learn in those classes is participating in discussions. Those teachers often have to spend more time replicating their class for the all-virtual students. 

Along with everything that is happening right now, the hybrid system is always changing and the school has been trying to find new ways to include all-virtual students recently. Over the first three weeks of school, the Wilmington Friends tech team has been working to update our wifi system so that virtual students can zoom in to more classes synchronously and participate in real-time discussions. Since this is a very new thing only some teachers are doing it for their classes. More recently students have been having more structure during Thursdays and Fridays because of this. 

Tauson Biggs ‘24, said, “I think that the difference of the level of education between the two types of learning isn’t huge but we miss out on things that kids do in person. We aren’t interacting with kids and sometimes that can affect your overall health depending on who you are.” There are positives and negatives to the all-virtual set up at Friends and things are going to change in the future.