The spread of COVID-19 has forced schools and colleges to offer all classes online for the first time in history to keep them at home and avoid the coronavirus. Online learning has been going on for a few weeks now, and students and teachers are making the adjustment. Kierra Gabriel, a student at Richland Northeast High School in Columbia, reported "it's pretty different from being in a classroom environment, although we're always on our Chromebooks in class doing work online. It's different not having the teacher in there."
It's different for the teachers, too. Gabriel's art teacher, Sharon Jacobs, is making a major adjustment in the movements she usually makes in the classroom. "I am so used to moving around my classroom constantly that I find it hard to sit still in front of a screen. It's almost like the students and I are reversing roles. But other than having to transition my body to be still, it's actually going very well."
Unlike subjects such as English or math, art is a very hands-on operation. So how can a teacher teach it if she can't provide hands-on instruction? Jacobs has found various ways, but one allows her to demonstrate in detail a certain art skill, by providing take-home materials for her students. "They might want to weave a tapestry on a loom. So I have a loom for them. And I can do one-on-one, because I brought all the materials home and set up an area in my living room. And I can show them on the loom that I have, what they should be doing with their loom at home."
Science labs are another hands-on subject that one assumes would be hard to teach online, especially at the college level. But University of South Carolina biology instructor Andy Schumpert finds that You Tube provides a rich variety of science-oriented demonstrations that match some of what he typically does in the lab.
But more than videos, he has adapted what many would consider mainly a gaming technology - virtual reality - to give his lab students a more three-dimensional feel for their lessons.
"There's been some early research that indicates that student engagement may actually be enhanced with virtual reality. So with one or two labs, we've actually been using some of this virtual reality in the form of 360-degree video. It's a pretty cool camera that will actually take a picture all the way around where you're standing. For example, there's some 360-degree video out there of Congaree National Park."
Schumpert said his students have reacted very well to the new situation COVID-19 has forced upon them. "Our students have been fantastic. Overwhelmingly, it's been a very positive experience...the students have done a fantastic job of really understanding the gravity of the situation and taking things seriously."
Gabriel's fellow students have taken shorter classes as a relief, and thus an opportunity for shorter work days. "They love it," she said. "They enjoy every part about it." She herself learns best by the hands-on method, she added. So would she prefer to be back in the classroom? "A hundred percent, yes."
Jacobs said teachers are working hard to make life as normal as possible for their students during this uncertain time. Schumpert spoke for all three when he observed that "this is definitely a learning experience for everyone."