The extension of remote learning through the end of the current school year is a challenge for both teachers and students.
But teachers in the South-Western City School District who have been holding virtual classes are finding silver linings in the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic cloud.
"There's that expression about how when one door closes another opens," Grove City High School visual arts teacher Suzanne Moore said. "No one wants hardship, but sometimes out of a hardship, a positive outcome results."
As part her painting and drawing classes, Moore has her students view and critique the work of their classmates.
In the classroom, when school is in regular session, the critiques are completed quickly, she said.
"They're done during the 50-minute class, and my students may be looking at and evaluating 25 or 26 pieces of artwork during that 50 minutes," Moore said.
But as part of the virtual-learning experience, her students are viewing their classmates' work online, and Moore has given them three days to complete their critiques.
"I'm finding they are being kinder, more thoughtful and constructive in the critiques they are sending me," Moore said. "It seems like they are giving the exercise more of their attention."
Part of that is the additional time they have to complete the reviews, she said.
Some of it may be because unlike the critiques done in school, the online evaluations are not anonymous, Moore said. The students submit their comments directly onto a slide presentation of a classmate's artwork.
In the classroom, students write their critiques on a paper document they give to her and she reads the comments each student's artwork has received, but doesn't identify the critic, Moore said.
"I think they are less inhibited in their critiques online, but there isn't any meanness involved," she said.
"It's a much richer experience" for the students, whether they are on the giving or receiving end," Moore said.
"I'm grading and evaluating the students on the critiques they submit to me, so that's really important," she said.
When in-person classes resume, Moore said, she plans to revamp the way critiques are done, to incorporate some of the positive results of the virtual-learning experience.
"I'm looking at it as a blessing," she said.
Virtual teaching is not all positive, Moore said.
"I really, really miss the kids," she said. "Normally, I would be walking around the classroom interacting with the students one on one about what they're working on. It's so much harder to do that remotely."
Students show her their work through Google Meet video conferencing, Moore said.
"I have four hours each day, five days a week, two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon, where I have Google Meet open and students can log in and talk to me, show me their work and ask questions," she said. "They can also email me at other times."
One of her biggest concerns is the availability of art materials for students, Moore said.
On the last day classes were held in the building, Moore distributed sketch books, brushes and kits of gouache paint for the students in her paint classes and sketch books with materials for those in her drawing class.
"But on that last day before school closed, a lot of students weren't able to attend school," she said. "So I've had to adjust the assignments I give students to make sure it's something they can do with whatever materials they might have at home, even if it's just a piece of paper and a pen or pencil."
Emily Bricker teaches seventh- and eighth-grade math and an app-development class at Brookpark Middle School.
Distance teaching "has been very challenging at the middle school level," Bricker said. "I didn't think it would be a big adjustment because I already use a lot of internet resources like Google Classroom in the classroom."
The personal connection between teacher and student is disrupted in the virtual classroom, and that is a major subtraction in a subject like math, she said.
"In the regular classroom, I try to project my love for math," Bricker said. "I know not every student shares my interest in math. Some students need a little more encouragement to clear the hurdle to understand the concepts we're talking about."
When she is meeting in person with students, she can often tell which students are engaged, which need some encouragement and which are struggling by the look in their eyes or the expression on their faces, Bricker said.
"That's harder to do when we're separated by the technology," she said. "Being online is slowing us down a bit, because it takes longer for me to gauge their understanding of the material. I have to make sure everyone has had a chance to review the material and read the section of the textbook we're covering."
Bricker said she holds a daily Google Hangout session for the students in her classes.
"It's optional," she said. "Kids can hop in if they want, see my face and talk to me. I can use my screen like a chalkboard to go over the concepts we're studying that week."
But some students may not feel comfortable joining the group, so Bricker also makes an overview of the material available via email and students can also arrange to meet online with her one on one.
Her goal is to give her students options to review material in the way that best fits them and their schedule, she said.
During the Google Hangout sessions, "we play a lot of games. There's a ton of math games out there online," Bricker said.
One advantage of the online experience is the access to the games that present the concepts in a fun way, she said.
"They make it not so 'mathy'," Bricker said.
The hangout sessions are held each afternoon at 1 p.m. for her eighth-grade students and 2 p.m. for seventh grade.
"The first couple of weeks (of virtual learning), I held the sessions in the morning, and my numbers were pretty low," Bricker said. "I found that middle school students want to be sleeping in at 10 a.m."
Virtual learning offers students and teachers flexibility so instruction and learning don't have to occur at a fixed time, she said.
Still, she can't wait to get back into the classroom with her students, Bricker said.
"I miss just talking to the students, both about math and about life," she said. "What I'm learning is how much that interaction means to me."