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Our latest episode of the Student Voices Podcast focuses on how students have experienced the return to remote learning for a second time. While many students have returned to on-site learning across the country, here in Victoria, we have spent half of the school year in lockdown. 

At Pivot, we understand how important it is that student’s perspectives are at the centre of shaping our next steps forward. So over the past couple of months, I have spoken directly to almost 40 students from six years of age to eighteen about how they feel about remote learning. 

It is extremely powerful to hear what students have to say first-hand, so if you have the opportunity I would recommend that you listen to the podcast. We recognise these are busy times though, and you may prefer to read our summary.

 

The first question I asked students was: What was your first reaction when you heard that you would be returning to remote learning?

There were three groups of students:

  • Those who were very upset and angered by the prospect of returning to remote learning
  • Those who acknowledged the positives and negatives
  • and those who were looking forward to learning from home again. 

These differing views were across age groups, highlighting that students do not all learn the same way. While there was no clear trend in age groups, we found the learning context of each student did affect their preferences. As our recent whitepaper found, ‘Socioeconomic disparities in Australian schools during the COVID-19 pandemic’, a student’s home life, their wifi connection and their ability to self-direct their learning impacted their initial reactions to the return to the online classroom.

I like to illustrate this concept with a boat analogy, which goes directly against the common phrase: “We are all in the same boat”. Yes, we have all been thrust into boats. However, while we are navigating these uncharted waters together, everyone is travelling through different storms on very different boats. Some students are on ‘super-yachts’, others are merely holding onto driftwood. 

These disparate contexts are important to remember. This is especially true as there is a tendency to group everyone experiencing lockdown into the same boat, holding each student accountable to the same benchmark.

The second question I asked students was: What worked the first time you learned from home?

Students widely acknowledged that open and easy communication with their teacher was a highlight of learning from home. Many of these students said good communication helped them feel supported during what has been an abnormal and scary time. 

Flexibility was another popular answer and one that many students highlighted as something they would like to see continued once on-site instruction returns. Many students, especially secondary school students, loved the ability to control their schedules and decide how they wanted to learn. For example, being able to choose a video, transcript, or PowerPoint slides helped many students feel a sense of agency during a time when a lot of us feel quite powerless. 

Other positives were the impact this period could have on future technical innovation, and the convenience of being able to wake up late and do school work in your PJs.

 

The third question I asked students was: What didn’t work the last time you learned from home?

Firstly, there are undeniably more distractions at home than there are at school. For a lot of us, home is where we go to unwind, so being asked to work and study from the same space has been difficult. Students talked about how factors such as having younger siblings in the house, unstable wifi connections and more generally a disruptive home life distracted them from learning tasks.

The second concern was a lack of motivation. For students who were motivated by their peers, individual study has taken away a significant level of motivation. Additionally, when the social aspects of school are removed or reduced, students said they were no longer as motivated to do their best. Students also expressed the monotony of daily routines, or lack thereof, as being significantly demotivating. 

Thirdly, when students couldn’t quickly reach their teachers, they felt unsupported. Students noted they felt stuck when a two second question took two hours to answer. This disruption in communication made working from home more difficult, especially for students whose parents work full-time and were unable to provide consistent support.

Lastly, a point that came up frequently was workload. Some students noted their teachers were handing them extra work to make up for a perceived drop in academic output and performance. However, the effect of this for a lot of young people was an even more intense feeling of stress, causing even less work to get done. For many, this turned into an unhealthy cycle.

 

The final question I asked students was: What could be done to improve online education?

For these answers, I encourage you to listen to the students’ themselves.

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It has been a privilege to have these conversations with so many students. I encourage any educator reading this to ask your students the same questions, even if your school has returned to on-site instruction. 

As one of the students said: “Not all heroes wear capes.” I want to express my gratitude and compassion for all of the passionate teachers out there during these trying times.  We see you and we appreciate you – Thank you.

To listen to Episode 2 – Remote Learning from the Student’s Perspective of the Student Voices Podcast series, visit our website.

More about Wren… 

Wren is Pivot’s Student Voice Advocate. She was part of VicSRC’s executive committee for close to three years, and chaired the executive team within this time. She has a been a youth champion for charitable organisations such as the Alannah and Madeline Foundation and Dolly’s Dream, and has spoken at multiple conferences and events across Australia about the power and significance of student voice, agency and empowerment. Wren is currently in her first year of university majoring in journalism, and continues to be a passionate spokesperson for young people.