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Distance Learning Curve: The Ups and Downs


by Vaun Thygerson
Contributing writer and mother of three
cadethygerson

 

Life was moving at a pretty hectic rate in the beginning of March, but by mid-March, it had slowed down completely. As a mom of three school-age children and an adjunct professor of Communication at Bakersfield College (BC), our schedules drastically changed within a couple of days’ notice. 

My oldest daughter attends BC, and my sons were at Rosedale Middle School and Liberty High School. And, just like that, we were all home every day with computer screens becoming our virtual classrooms. My boys’ lacrosse season was cancelled after only two games. 

BC already has a lot of features online through its portal and Canvas programs, which I have been using for years, mostly to post assignments and grades. My daughters’ classes mainly switched to doing all their teaching through Canvas and emails. One of her teachers put his lectures up on YouTube. Because I teach Public Speaking and Persuasion courses, I had to learn Zoom so that I could hold regular class times where I could see my students give their speeches.

Thankfully, at BC, we had time to prepare for transitioning our classes to an online format. I am a true-blue newspaper gal, who grew up before computers and the internet, so this online experience was really out of my comfort zone. I took advantage of all the resources available. I watched BC tutorials and had in-person trainings to become more technologically savvy with the Zoom format. I even used Zoom to call my department chair to ask a question about Zoom. 

Also, my students were eager to share their knowledge with me and each other. After a week or so of a transition period, we had our new normal figured out. Of course, we had a few glitches – a lot of lagging and sporadic WiFi connections, but we made it. 

One funny Zoom class experience I had last semester included when my 14-year-old son was making pancakes and set off my fire alarm. My students loved that for sure! One of my students, Tino, even typed in the chat function, “Oh no! Not the pancakes!” 

Although, I really prefer the face-to-face connection with my students, I was able to see a whole new side of them through Zoom. I loved seeing a glimpse into their home lives and personalities. And, I feel like they got to know me and my family a little better also! 

My older son, a rising Junior at Liberty High School, took his classwork very seriously. His Zoom classes weren’t mandatory, so he mostly figured out the work for himself. He did write a ten-page research paper and luckily I could help him with that. For his geometry class, he would go to Google Hangout for peer support. His report card was simply either a pass or fail grade for each class. I’m hoping this Fall he has more structure in his online classes, because he has a pretty hard schedule. 

I was really worried about my youngest son adapting to an online format because he is the most social person in our family. He actually did better than I imagined. He’s a rising Freshman, but last fall he was at Rosedale Middle School. He took advantage of all the Zoom classes. 

His Farm to Table teacher used the virtual approach showing her garden to the students and having the kids show off their plants (even if it was just cacti). She encouraged them to cook and share recipes with each other. To make sure the class received the end-of-the-year awards, she taped my son’s “Passionfruit” award to our door. 

One time in my son’s English Zoom class, he was unmuted and the teacher somehow lost connection, so for a few minutes my son “took over” the class until the teacher came back on. That was the highlight of his online school for sure. As a Freshman, I hope he gets the support he needs with new subjects he’s never taken before like Spanish and Video Production. 

Distance learning is a two-way street. You have to have a teacher that puts in the effort and you have to have students who work hard also to be successful. I’m excited for the fall for my classes because I know what to expect now and I know the technology better. The syllabus definitely needs some tweaking, especially in typical hands-on classrooms like a farm to table or a speech class. Luckily, this happened in 2020 when we have so much access to technology, I can’t even imagine “online” school in my era of the 1980s.

One thing for sure is that we are all adaptable to whatever life gives us. Life changed on a dime and we are still figuring out our new normal. Looking back, I’m pretty proud of all of us and thankful that none of us have become sick. Stay healthy! 

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Tags: Education, Featured Story, Parenting, Tweens & Teens


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