Beds. Kitchen tables. Backyards. For the Spring 2020 academic term, these have become our classrooms. Students are rolling out of bed at 8:55 a.m. to catch the first 9 a.m. class, eating cereal while watching teachers scribble math equations, ending the school day at 4 p.m. after four hours of classes. This may have previously been an ideal routine, but now, most are anxious to return to campus and resume their normal school life. They want to engage in discussions without awkward muted silence, perform on stage or on the field, and most importantly, see their friends who have become family. However, as there is little we can do but remain optimistic in this challenging time, we must also recognize and take advantage of the many opportunities presented by online learning.
Undoubtedly, Google Meets does not provide the same authentic human interaction as a physical classroom, making it difficult to raise questions and sustain discussion. This frustration, however, pushes us to become more proactive in our own learning. With more reliance on homework assignments, students must take initiative to understand the concepts and seek help beyond the 50-minute lectures. Many are utilizing resources on the Internet, like Khan Academy or simple Google searches, or scheduling office hours with teachers to continue one-on-one conversations. This is how learning will take place after our school years, for the rest of our lives. We no longer will have teachers presenting every answer to us on a silver platter and advisers constantly checking up on our progress; rather, we will have to solve problems and look for solutions ourselves. We often take for granted the supportiveness of the Mercersburg community and may be disillusioned once we leave. But now is the perfect opportunity to facilitate this transition into learning actively and independently.
Once we leave Mercersburg, we will be responsible for managing our own time, without a schedule accounting for every hour in our day. No one will tell us to do our homework during quiet hours or log us for checking in late to the dorm. With only four hours of scheduled classes per day, we can decide to trade homework for gaming or go to bed at 3 a.m. every night; but we, not the school or dorm faculty, are and will be, responsible for these decisions. Regardless of wealth or intelligence or talent, every single one of us is endowed with 24 hours in a day — this is where we are truly equal. But we choose to use this time in our own way, and this is the true difference between individuals.
While to manage our time effectively may seem a daunting challenge, it is also an immense opportunity. At school, we constantly complain that we do not have enough time to do anything beyond homework and PGAs. Well, now we do. Learn a new language, read the books on the back of your shelf, write a poem, become a chef—whatever it is, we now have the opportunity to pursue it.
With the switch to online learning, the school is also given an opportunity. This situation wasn’t intentional, of course, but it was, perhaps, necessary to facilitate needed changes to the curriculum. Even with minor tweaks along the way, the current school system is an institution of history. The past few decades have welcomed revolutions in technology, most notably the invention of the Internet, which connects people in every corner of the world and makes the world’s information accessible at our fingertips. Yet, our school system has largely remained the same for centuries. This asymmetry simply doesn’t make sense. Lectures, memorization, and dogma might have been necessary to popularize education in the 1800s, but now our education should be doing so much more than just pouring facts into us that will soon be forgotten. Our education should push us to ask meaningful questions, think deeply about topics, and apply our knowledge to solve pressing global issues. Many Mercersburg faculty members have recognized the need to develop skills over content and are working tirelessly to advocate for this shift. Now, the switch to online learning may be the push to break traditional boundaries. This uncertain time allows teachers to experiment with their teaching and reflect upon the content of their classes. Rather than sticking to the exact format of traditional syllabi, teachers should adapt to the advantages of online learning and distill their classes to what truly matters.
While we must acknowledge the challenges of today’s crisis, we should also seize the opportunities offered by this historical event. COVID-19 will wreak long-term damage in the lives of millions, but it is up to us to decide whether we react to the challenge with hopeless despair or see it as an opportunity of growth.