“Go ahead and unmute yourself,” the teacher says. A blurry, pixelated picture and feedback squall meet the request. “OK, mute! Mute!”
This, and several other scenarios (“I can’t see you, can you see me?” “You’re frozen.” “Log out and log back in.”) played out in homes across West Virginia this week as the grand experiment of online learning to prevent the spread of COVID-19 got underway. Some might have gone off without a hitch, but the stories of annoyance, frustration and bizarre hilarity seem more common.
Maybe the problem rests with software platforms that aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Maybe it’s because broadband in West Virginia is more of a punchline than an established, reliable and available service. Maybe it’s because this is still relatively new for most. Maybe it’s a bit of all of these things and some other factors besides.
It has to be frustrating for the teachers, who are now expected to be information technology experts in addition to their already broad responsibilities. It’s frustrating and exhausting for the parents, who are trying to figure this out while also, oftentimes, working. As for the kids, it’s hard to imagine that this is the best way to educate them.
Perhaps, if the technology was up to snuff, it would be a better experience. Students, especially younger ones, are easily distracted by glitches.
It’s a tiny miracle that things got off the ground, but a miracle nonetheless. And, right now, it’s the best thing to do in hot-spot counties as the coronavirus pandemic continues to sicken and kill more and more West Virginians. It takes a lot of patience on everyone’s part and, while things likely will get better as the school year progresses, more of that particular virtue will still be required.
Depending on Saturday’s updated case numbers, more students could be heading back to in-person classrooms next week, although the possibility always exists that an outbreak will cause more shutdowns.
Hats off to all the teachers putting in unreal effort, the parents who are sacrificing for their kids and the kids themselves, who are dealing with unusual circumstances regardless of whether they’re learning in a classroom or the living room.
One day, this will be a meddlesome memory. Until then, everyone has to forge ahead and do the best they can.