By: Aleena Khan
On September 8th, 2020 Howard County students returned back to online school with a completely different system than the prior year of online school. The new system created by the Board of Education, a group of eight individuals who are supposed to “...provide leadership for excellence in teaching and learning by fostering a climate for deliberative change through policy and community engagement”(HCPSS) spent months creating schedules, rules, and requirements for virtual learning, only to completely fail. The format of online school in Howard County has proven to be very troublesome on the students' side of the screen, with a multitude of students being overwhelmed with an excessive amount of work.
Howard County completely changed the way they originally formatted school, instead of having six classes every day, “High school students are enrolled in 4 class periods in the fall semester and 4 class periods in the spring semester”(HCPSS) and “Asynchronous assignments should take students 3-4 hours per course to complete, and are due by the start of class on the following Monday”(HCPSS).
According to the rules that the Board created, they believe it is plausible and okay to make students do double the work in half the time. This a complete change from what students in Howard County because they have been using a 7 class schedule for years. Students also have less class time making it more difficult for them to learn the material. Not only is it impossible for students to learn at that pace, but it also adds extreme amounts of pressure and stress onto the students.
According to a survey I conducted, out of 250 Howard County high school students, 209 (83.6%) feel high or intermediate levels of stress. Rather than allowing students to learn, the board has set it up where students overwork themselves to complete assignments. The reason that students are forced to overexert themselves is because students are given more work in a shorter period of time. The amount of assignments begins to pile up and the majority of the time, there is no leeway when it comes to due dates. Due to the format of virtual learning, students are forced to overwork themselves to get assignments done, which can be extremely stressful. Overall, there are no educational benefits from the way that they are formatting school, it's essentially a plan that was created without input from people who are affected by it. Can you imagine sitting through 7 virtual classes a day and not having any chunks of down time to work on school?
When talking to some of those students about their stress levels and the main cause of it, an individual who wants to remain anonymous, a Sophomore at Glenelg, explained “When I'm done with my classwork for the day, I have more homework. Then once I'm done with that homework, I have to study. Once I'm done [with all of] that, it's time to sleep, but the stress from the day lingers over and it creates a lot of anxiety for the upcoming days to just keep repeating the process.”
The amount of work piles up every single day. After completing their assignments, students are unable to feel a sense of relief. Instead, they are met with another wave of stress and anxiety due to the assignments awaiting them the next day. It's a never-ending cycle of excessive work, stressing out and spending all day doing the work, just to repeat the process again the next day.
Along with extreme amounts of stress, there seems to be a correlation between stress and sleep levels. While analyzing the results of the survey, I noticed students who feel more stressed get less sleep and also said their mental health has declined because of the copious amount of work. Even though online school starts later, students stay up later doing asynchronous work which results in less sleep. A River Hill student explained, “...I am more stressed and anxious about getting everything turned in and getting good grades causing me to stay up later and wake up earlier to get decent grades.” Keeping all four classes work in order while managing due dates is extremely difficult. It's essentially a juggling act of grades, sleep, and mental health, however, one is bound to drop.
The majority of the participants who fall under the high or intermediate amount of stress also checked off “3-5 hours of sleep” and also checked off “Yes, my mental health has declined as a result from online school”(2020 online school survey). They all have a correlation. The more work students get, stress levels increase which can cause sleeping issues.
Not only is online school taking a toll on students’ mental health, but also their physical health. The majority of students spend about 4-6 hours (29.3%) or 6-8 (46.3%) hours on a computer because of online school. Spending that long staring at a screen can result in many issues like headaches, dizziness, dry eyes, and screen fatigue.
“Screen fatigue is actually a group of disorders that develops from moving your eyes in a repetitive motion; being on a computer screen forces your eyes to refocus over and over again and damages your eyes in the process”(Web MD). The amount of time students spend on a computer because of classes and asynchronous work can be extremely harmful to their physical health. If the board would take into consideration students' health, maybe some of these health issues could decline. Instead of having all online assignments, teachers should try to provide assignments that can be printed so that students don't have to stare at a screen.
While talking to a Junior at Glenelg High School, Mariam Shah, about her thoughts on screen fatigue and the amount of school work that is being given, she mentioned that “[students] don't have enough time to do other stuff besides school work… so often class updates are made online and not in class, therefore, students need to always be on Canvas.” There's no separation between school and home. Students no longer have a getaway from school because school is at home, the lines of personal life and school life have blurred together.
Students need to regularly be online so that they can keep up with new assignments, announcements, updates, changes, and other things. Even when all of the other assignments are complete, students still need to refer back to their screens to get an idea of what their grades are like and what's coming up. The time on screens slowly totals up to an outrageous number.
My proposition on how online school should be differs from Howard County's current plan, however it still keeps the generalized structure. Students have 4 classes per semester. There are 4 50 minutes classes each day( it's a replication of real life school). Instead of having a 2 hour break between second and third period, there is a 5 to 10 minute break per class. This way, school starts at 9AM and ends before 1PM. Teachers are required to get back to students emails in one to two days, except on weekends. Also teachers are required to record a video explaining the asynchronous assignments like they would have done in class so that students can refer back to that video if they have any questions. All tests must be completed in class. Also students must have a computer with a microphone, if they don't, they are required to get a macbook that the school provides. There should be a max of 30 minutes of asynchronous assignments per class per day. That rule must be enforced. Lastly, there should be a 30 minute session after school where students can talk with their teacher with no overlap from clubs. This format makes it so that students can differentiate between school and home, while getting less assignments for homework. It also gives a feeling of in person school since what we would be doing in person is what we do in the google meet. Certain adjustments should be made with this idea but the generalized structure should help.
It has become very apparent to students that online school has its flaws. The biggest flaw in Howard County's online curriculum and format is the work and scheduling of it, however since none of the board members currently hold a job as a teacher, none of them understand how much work is given out. There clearly is an issue on the students’ side of online school, the real question is, how long will it take for change?