Remote Learning in Spring of 2020: An Effective Response to the Pandemic?

Bryant Xia

Following an abrupt cancellation of in-person schooling, the Lexington Public Schools needed to create an effective remote learning experience from scratch. However, devising a plan that incorporated sufficient student accountability while navigating our unique moment in history proved to be a significant challenge. 

Back in mid-March, Lexington High School suspended in-person learning due to public health concerns. Two weeks thereafter, LHS published a remote learning plan that had many questioning its efficacy. Unfortunately, the virus only worsened since; what may have been a temporary remote learning strategy lasted the remainder of the semester. While lacking in student accountability and facing a decline in content coverage, it was arguably the best possible response to this unexpected crisis. 

Many theories floated around as to what remote learning would look like, and the administration ultimately settled on a rather hands-off approach. A key feature in the proposal was the increased optionality regarding academic engagement, which reduced many students’ motivation to participate in remote learning. 

“There weren’t really tests or anything, so there is not as much of an incentive to learn. The grading was just pass or fail,” Reuben Erives, a senior, said.

While an organic passion of learning should far outweigh pressure from grades or tests, those latter forces play a significant role in Lexington. Their swift removal was naturally accompanied by a reduction in student engagement. 

Outside of showing up to Google Meets with just two other students, the other issue I had was the sheer reduction in the volume of content covered during the three months of remote learning. Ever since we slammed on the brakes in mid-March, we’ve only managed to push the car forward incrementally. Looking back, the declining pace amounted to a notable gap in our high school education, which could have been especially detrimental for underclassmen whose later classes will inevitably build on these weakened foundations. 

While replicating the school-day experience online might have addressed the decline in content coverage, it’s much easier said than done. 

“We have curriculum and activities that have been developed over years and years, that are finely tuned to work with a room full of kids. It is not simple to upend that [and] move into an online environment that, as of March 13, most of us had never used, even once,” Sarah Avon Lewis, president of the Lexington Education Association, wrote in a statement. 

More important, perhaps, was the flexibility embedded in the proposal. Having adapted to our new norm, we may have lost sight of how the pandemic is unparalleled. At the peak of last spring’s surge, the virus posed tangible threats to the health and safety of ourselves and loved ones. It is simply impossible to know all of the challenges students faced during those months, but by allowing leeway in school participation, the plan conveyed trust in our ability to make the right decisions—given our vastly different circumstances—without having to offer lengthy explanations. A more rigorous schedule, on the contrary, would likely subtract from students’ capacity to adjust and add unnecessary stress to an already stressful moment. 

All told, the remote learning plan was an ineffective answer from a learning standpoint alone, but one that was socially and emotionally reasonable given our circumstances. With many of its flaws addressed, we received a more comprehensive strategy for remote learning this past fall.