Online learning presents opportunities, challenges in Huron County
BY DENNY SCOTT
With the recent announcement that students in Huron County will be participating in remote learning indefinitely, staff, students and parents are figuring out how to make it work.
Two local teachers, Brussels-area native Morgan Deitner who teaches at Listowel Eastdale Public School, and Heather Dawe who teaches at Seaforth Public School, spoke to The Citizen about how online teaching has been going for them.
Deitner, a prep coverage and gym and health teacher, and Dawe, a music teacher, both said they have seen some great learning experiences and faced some unique challenges since online learning started early this month.
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind to be honest,” says Dawe. “I teach a different class every 40 minutes, and have a different meeting with different kids.”
She said that online learning follows the same schedule as a day at school, but aside from that, it’s completely different.
“As a music teacher, I don’t have the resources available to me at the school to be able to pull out and play whatever music I like,” she said. “It takes twice as much planning and twice as much effort, and you might get half as much participation versus everyone being in the same room.”
Deitner has had a similar experience, but she says that the whole situation is compounded from what the schools and teachers were already facing.
“We already had a hard time with COVID-19 last year,” she said. “We had limited equipment, and Listowel Eastdale’s gym was off-limits, so all the gym classes I taught were outside, or, indoor classes.”
She said those limitations have increased, as she has to consider what kind of equipment students may have in their own home.
One example she provided was having students play a game of catch with themselves, however not all students may have a ball or the room to safely play the game, so she had students use rolled-up socks.
“We have to find new ways to teach,” she said. “We can’t assume that families have workout equipment. Hopefully everyone has socks.”
Deitner went on to say that teddy bears have become a constant for her, as they can be used as workout partners or weights for younger students.
Dawe said she had similar difficulties when class was in session, as students weren’t allowed to sing. Now, however, she can encourage people to sing, which is a blessing, she said.
“It’s nice to see them singing or playing with their family,” she said. “It’s good to see them sharing joy with each other.”
Dawe said she’ll play her own guitar and see students go and get their own instruments, and that keeps her inspired to continue pushing herself and her students to make the best of online learning.
Deitner said students are facing a difficult period right now, and that it’s hard, especially for the younger ones, to follow classes.
As part of her position, she frequently helps students one-on-one normally, and now those students are meeting with her and their class teachers as they try to work towards learning plans to help each other out. She said the COVID-19 lockdown continues to be a challenge for students like that.
“The mornings I do different support work with those students and teachers, then in the afternoon, I have my gym classes,” she said.
Those afternoon classes can be joyful occasions she said, as the students are so excited to see their teacher and know that gym class is starting.
In between her classes, she says she’s constantly on the lookout for new games and resources as, especially with the younger students, new games and activities may only be exciting for two or three days.
She also said that getting students to go outside can be a challenge because some don’t want to and some don’t have the equipment that others do to enjoy being outside. Because of that, she says she tries to find as many fun activities to do inside as she can.
Deitner said that her attendance for class is about what it is when the students were in class, and that, while the school doesn’t have every family participating online, there has been significant buy-in. “On average I’m seeing between 17 and 25 kids for each class,” she said.
Dawe, who teaches Kindergarten to Grade 8, said that students all the way up to Grade 6 are excited to be doing online learning, and while she thinks Grade 7 and 8 students are as well, a lot of them turn their cameras off while they’re learning.
“It could be daunting for them,” she said. “They may not want to be on camera and it might be tricky for them to share their ideas because of the place they are at in life and their relationship with their peers. It’s an age group thing.”
Dawe said it’s easier to engage those older groups in a classroom setting, but it is working and it’s part of what she calls a generally positive experience.
“It hasn’t been without its challenges,” she said. “There are technological problems, working with links, but once we’re in there, all singing and playing, it’s a beautiful experience.”
That said, when the announcement came that online learning would be continued indefinitely, Dawe admits her own morale dipped.
“It was nice to have that hope,” she said. “When people don’t have hope, they feel bogged down.”
Having her own children at home, and juggling being a mother and a teacher during stay-at-home learning, she does understand some of the frustrations that surround it.
“When we ask how long we can maintain it, I don’t have an answer,” she said. “I hope we can keep going as long as we need to. We try and push everything through as long as we can.”
She said the focus of online learning isn’t just for education, it fosters community building, communication and resilience.
“It gives them something to do, something to look forward to and hope that we’ll be in class again,” she said.