Whatcom community forced to chart new territory online

As conditions with the Covid-19 virus took the world by storm, all non-essential local businesses have been ordered closed.

This immediate change left little time for any transition, and students were thrown right into it. Teachers were not immune.

“I’m learning from the experience,” said Whatcom Community College drama instructor Gerald Large. “One thing, for instance, is the Drama 110 Production class. Live on stage, I’m focused on getting the play on its feet for performing in front of a live audience. Putting it online, I’m forced to focus more on analysis.”

Instructors had to change the way they taught, and students had to learn differently.

“The switch is hard,” said Whatcom student Emily Hamilton. “I’m not really an online learner, so these are the first online classes I have ever taken, it is not my favorite.”

Online learning is expected throughout the remainder of this school year.

The online instruction mandate has hit students all over the county, from elementary to high school.

Nevaeh Corona, a 5th grader at Birchwood Elementary said she feels “overwhelmed because I get a lot of new stuff every day and we get a lot of activities to do every day.”

Diego Corona, a senior at Bellingham High School who is enrolled in Washington State University for the fall, is disappointed in the new reality.

“It’s a waste of my time,” he said. “Why complete classes that aren’t required for graduation? I’m not really learning anything anymore, it’s all just completion.”

He said he doesn’t know how the university will proceed as of yet, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight anytime soon.

Students and teachers alike had to adapt to this new change over what they’re accustomed to. Large said that he doesn’t think any online class is a suitable substitute for an on-campus class.

“Teaching, acting, and drama production online doesn’t compare to working with students live and on stage,” he said. “These are classes that shouldn’t be taught online. I hope I’ve created classes that are interesting, fun and beneficial for students.”

Some classes translate fairly, he admits. “Drama 101: Introduction to Theater is a class that would work well online.”

Hamilton said there are some things you just can’t learn online. 

“In most classes, you learn so much more when you are hands-on, and having the other people to work with,” said Hamilton. 

With online classes, students don’t have direct contact with teachers. In class, they interact, ask questions, and are able to get help immediately.

“Since the shutdown, who am I supposed to ask? Am I supposed to email? How long until I get a reply?” asked Diego Corona.

Some classes pose other challenges, he said.

“With math, it makes it more difficult. Same with classes that required labs, like science. How does that work anymore?” he said, adding that “teachers will know only that you have completed an assignment, but how do they know that you’re actually learning?”

Nevaeh Corona said that what she misses about online learning is “being with other people and learning from other people and getting to see their perspectives on what we are learning.”

Not everyone has access to the same technology in some cases, making the transition difficult. 

“We’re still not completely connected in our classes with other kids, and the teacher can’t teach us new things as they would in class because not everyone is connected with each other,” said Nevaeh Corona.

The question is whether this will become the new way of learning. There are concerns that performance will suffer.

 “I know I wouldn’t want to go to a doctor who took biology online, or a lawyer with an online degree, or a dentist,” Large said.

Interacting with students is what Large misses and the reason he says he became an educator.

Screen time is another concern of this new educational reality. Not being able to listen to an instructor speak about a subject in front of the class can seem disconnected. “Philosophy and lectures are engaging, and make you think a lot,” Diego Corona said. “Now, it’s all reading. The only interaction available is with the computer you’re looking at.”

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