The repetitive routine of remote learning

by Yethmie Goonatilleke, Social Media Manager (Twitter)

At 7:59 a.m., I crack open my laptop as my groggy eyes adjust to the luminous screen in front of me. My cursor falls on the Zoom link posted and I proceed to click it to attend class, virtually. After that class, I click on the next appropriate Zoom link and after that class – you guessed it: I click on another Zoom link.

While I am able to attend school in the comfort of my home, this mundane routine of online-learning has felt like a never-ending cycle, specifically during these past months in which remote learning has become a prevalent method of learning. In the wake of COVID-19, schools across the country have had to adopt remote learning – distance learning that relies on technology such as Zoom, replacing in-person instruction. While Glen Rock High School has shifted towards a hybrid schedule, which alternates in-person and remote learning days, they have also offered a complete remote learning option as an accommodation for every student.

The fact that I am able to get an education through a computer screen as a remote student leaves me marveled at the possibilities of technology. I truly appreciate teachers and educators who have redesigned their teaching methods during this pandemic. Yet, there are numerous downfalls of remote learning, including physical and mental stressors, that need to be remedied.  

In a study conducted at the American University of Beirut, 67.8% of student participants were found to have eye fatigue, also known as asthenopia. Among the participants, 27.0% of the students had blurred vision due to the use of digital devices, the most frequent symptom. This study was conducted in the spring of 2019 and used traditional,  in-person students attending various faculties at the university. Remote learning was not as widespread as it is now. In an age filled with digital technology, it’s inevitable for schools to utilize this technology. Due to the shift to online learning, tired and dry eyes are undoubtedly an effect from an extended period of computer screen time

There are several ways to combat screen and eye fatigue, such as blue-light glasses – glasses that filter out blue-violet rays emitted from digital screens – or even the 20-20-20 rule, a method used to combat computer eye strain, where every 20 minutes you look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. These methods are helpful, but in addition to a seven-hour school day, I often need to use my laptop to complete homework after school. 

This screen time from school and homework is excessive compared to the recommended amount. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teenagers ranging from 15-18 spend about seven and a half hours in front of a screen for entertainment media. In perspective, the American Heart Association recommends that teenagers should only spend no more than two hours in front of a screen. Technology is already so ingrained in our lives and I believe staring at a computer screen for a prolonged period of time shouldn’t be the reality students are facing. As a remote student, even on my “asynchronous days” where teachers assign work to complete independently, I have to attend five classes that use synchronous learning via Zoom every day, defeating the purpose of the break that asynchronous learning is supposed to give. 

The domination of digital media in our lives also may be a cause of a rise in mental health issues, according to the American Psychological Association. The APA has also discovered the toll Zoom has on kids, including feelings of social isolation that lead to a decrease in motivation. Students who also depend on mental health services in school are unable to receive support. At a time where even COVID-19 can induce stress and anxiety, online school should not be another source of apprehension for students. I can vouch for this sense of apprehension from online school, as having to work in my home environment has definitely distressed me. Learning from home leaves me subject to distractions which are especially irritating during tests. It takes a lot more motivation to learn in a home environment rather than in a concentrated school environment. Although at home, I often feel drained after a long day of online learning, even more so opposed to a regular in-person day of school.

It often feels as if there is no break with remote learning: back-to-back Zoom classes coupled with studying for tests and completing homework, all while staring at a bright screen. Remote learning shouldn’t hinder students’ mental and physical health in any way and should instead support it. Shortening the amount of time in front of a screen can be beneficial to students as it is draining. Ensuring that students do not need to self-learn due to unaccommodating teachers would be a great help. The isolation and lack of motivation that comes along with remote learning can be mentally exhausting – a way to alleviate this would be extremely helpful to remote students. Frankly, I believe with the increased accessibility to technology, remote learning can improve drastically and become a huge advantage to students, not a hindrance.