MHS Exploring post pandemic remote learning options

Ally Guo | Staff Writer

Teaching and Learning Dr. Robyn Jordan, Mason formed several focus groups in order to hear feedback from “every type of family” and “every type of learner.” Each focus group was asked the same questions, centering around what has gone well this year and what needs to change. However, one particularly important question asked to families was, “What does Mason quality mean to you?”

“The feedback clearly showed that part of Mason quality was the teachers and the curriculum,” Jordan said. “Those robust offerings, the curriculum that is offered in person, our Mason teachers.”

Although the current online model aligns with Ohio standards and is supported by Mason teachers, the curriculum was not developed by them. Instead, it was created by and purchased from an outside company.

“Our community clearly shared that if online is going to continue, we want it to be our Mason teachers that are developing and delivering the curriculum,” Jordan said. “The teachers said that that’s what they wanted, too. As of now, we’re seeing that there’s probably going to be a need for some form of online option moving into next year, so we want it to be our Mason teachers and our Mason curriculum.”

Sophomore Cynthia Shao, who chose remote learning this year, said she also believes the lack of engagement with Mason teachers is an issue. With short and infrequent Zoom meetings, as well as the expectation that students are supposed to learn the content on their own, she said she sometimes struggles to master the material.

“[The classes] shorten the Zoom meetings to an hour of each class a week,” Shao said. “Some classes we don’t even get Zoom meetings. And during the Zoom meetings, [I talk] to other students who are just as clueless as me, or [the teachers] go over the Learning Plan. I don’t need [them] to go over what we’re doing this week. I need [them] to go over the content, so I [can] actually listen and absorb what we’re learning.”

Shao also said she finds it much easier to get good grades in her online classes but believes that “it’s wrong that they’re so easy.” Shao said that even though “[her] grade might be a 100 or a 95, [her] comprehension is like a five” due to lack of direct instruction from teachers.

Jordan said she believes the disparity between online and in-person courses will shrink once the Mason curriculum is implemented online to be taught by Mason teachers. For example, adjustments might be made to the schedule so that the time spent interacting with a teacher is more consistent between both options. Additionally, because some Mason teachers may be teaching both online and in-portion sections at the same time, the classes will be able to “mirror” each other more closely.

“I think that will improve tremendously, just the way we structure the system to begin with,” Jordan said. “We build it in that way where it’s our teachers, our curriculum, and then students can select what’s best fit, and families will be able to pick what’s best for them.”

Part of attaining that “best fit” is to incorporate more flexibility in student schedules. Though tentative, the administration has proposed offering hybrid schedules in the future, where students can take a combination of online and in-person classes concurrently. Jordan says she believes hybrid schedules will “[open] up flexibility for learning preferences and what [students] truly need as a learner,” allowing students to “personalize their learning experience.”

“We’ve seen some online learners thrive this year, [but] online learning is not for everyone,” Jordan said. “That’s why I think [it’s] a huge benefit to be able to personalize your learning. It really just depends on who that student is as a learner and what they feel like is best for their learning needs. [Flexible schedules] really get at the heart of personalized learning.”

However, because not all classes, such as more hands-on subjects like science and art, lend themselves well to an online setting, not all courses will be offered online. Currently, the plan is that when students go to register for courses, the course selector will indicate which classes are offered in person and which could potentially be taken online.

Additionally, according to Jordan, due to logistical reasons, it will not be possible for all students to receive a “perfect schedule.” For example, a student may have an in-person first bell but an online second bell and in-person third bell. Jordan said she recognizes the transportation, time, and convenience problems this poses.

“We still have to plan out [the] logistics of where the student would go,” Jordan said. “Is there a space they [could] go during an online bell, [where] they’re still in the building, but they’re working on their course.”

The plan for future online courses is still in tentative development and planning, but Jordan said her team has been working with the focus groups and families to make improvements and adjustments. Based on solutions and action steps proposed by the community, a prototype model has already been made.

“We developed a model that we presented to the central office right after [winter] break,” Jordan said. “We [recently] met with our teacher leaders — our leaders in our building — and formally presented the model to them for feedback. The next step will be to share out the model and get some feedback from some of our focus groups. Then we’re hoping to have everything finalized by the middle of February to then start scheduling.”

Shao said that although she understands how more customizable schedules could benefit some students, she views “having school as a block in [her] day” as a source of “stability in [her] life” and doesn’t see herself taking online classes if she doesn’t need to.

“I think I’ve been experiencing way too much flexibility that I don’t know what to do with,” Shao said. “I’ve been told all my life to follow this schedule, and now they just throw this [new] schedule at me.”

Jordan said she also predicts that most students would choose to stay all in-person, however, she believes it is important to keep an online option open for the smaller percentage of students who do thrive with remote learning.

“At the end of the day, what we want is for our students to feel psychologically safe in any environment,” Jordan said. “We want them to have really meaningful and relevant learning experiences and be unapologetically themselves. That’s Mason quality, and that’s what we want to be able to provide to our families. That’s what we work to provide.”