State borders have been open for several weeks, however Omicron works faster, with Covid-19 cases surging through the roof.
Queensland primary and secondary schools have kicked off a new (and already Covid-delayed) semester, amidst much uncertainty as to whether online learning is a viable option amidst record breaking daily Covid-19 cases.
As close contacts of Covid-diagnosed patients are required to quarantine for seven days before resuming daily activities, many students will have to keep up with their schoolwork remotely at home when school starts.
Navigating the world of technology and virtual meetings is no small feat, as many senior high school students across Brisbane discovered in the last two years when online lessons became the norm through periods of snap lockdowns.
Scientia Professor at the University of NSW Andrew Martin said online learning affected students in different ways.
“Self-directed students don’t need a teacher to tell them what to do or how to do it,” he said.
“They can go about things and figure it out themselves and they enjoy the fact that there are no distractions in class.”
Joy, a year 12 student at St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School, enjoyed online classes significantly more than in-person classes as she liked how there was much more agency over her learning.
She says she was able to use her time more effectively and felt more self-driven and motivated from the flexibility that online classes provide.
“More personal check-ups with students will allow the connection to remain at a supportive emotional level,” she said.
University of Queensland senior lecturer Dr Elizabeth Edwards supports this, and explains that teachers and lecturers are tasked with supporting the motivational needs of their students.
“In my classes, I hold drop-in sessions online for those who wish to feel more connected during their studies.” Edwards said.
“I also ‘check-in’ at the beginning of online classes to see how students are feeling, and ensure they have information about services on campus to support their mental health and socialisation.
“We know that student and teacher wellbeing is inextricably linked. If teachers feel OK then so do their students.”
Edwards adds that if a teacher has good awareness and wellbeing strategies for their own life, they are in the best place to support their students. This can be done equally well face-to-face as online, however it takes particular efforts and strategies to do this online.
While students such as Joy found online-learning a walk in the park, other students felt less motivated in their lessons.
“The effectiveness of online learning decreased mostly for me since there was less restrictions during classes and the lack of participation while being online (e.g. classes would be interrupted with technical difficulties which cut through lesson time).” says Yifei, a Somerville House student in her final year of school.
“There was little to no excitement throughout the lesson as the amount of social interactions decreased and the face-to-face contact was lacking for there to be clear communication between students and teachers.”
Bryan, a 2021 graduate of John Paul College, also agrees that online learning was ineffective as it was much harder to stay focused and concentrate on studying.
“I was unmotivated to study and was also always distracted by my friends and social media. It was also hard to seek help from teachers during that time as it took a lot more effort to receive answers than it had been at school.”
“Online learning should be able to create an environment where the student is motivated and engaged in their studies. Many students prefer learning at their home environment, however, face difficulties with concentrating and staying motivated to learn.”
Martin explains the students’ struggles as a “virtuous loop” where motivation directly correlates with the relationships between the student, teachers and peers.
“Students who do benefit from those [social] interactions benefit from more of that hands-on support from teachers and benefit from teachers noticing them in classroom and noticing that they’re not keeping up with the work,” he said.
“A key pillar of mental health is relatedness: when relationships are going well, students that may be at risk for mental health challenges may be adequately supported so it doesn’t become a spiral for them.”
Advice for parents and family members
Martin recommends that parents try and stay in touch with their child and check that their child is on task and on track during online lessons.
Staying in touch with the school will make sure that the child is keeping up with the workload and getting advice on how to help if the child is not keeping up is also a great way.
“That may, for some students, require for their computers to be in a public area where that can be monitored because the temptation of social networks is pretty irresistible.
“Also getting that balance between ensuring the child is on track but not getting over-controlling because the over-control can reduce motivation so parents get the judgment right between when to push a little and when to hold off a little.”
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