Thursday, July 9, 2020

Student Voices: Remote Learning Lessons and the Return to School

In the Washoe County School District in western Nevada, stakeholders were surveyed about the return to school in the fall. Among those stakeholders were students who were asked about four key areas of concern including health and safety, learning issues, the physical environment, and their attitudes about returning to school.

63% of students supported going back to school with 29% reporting that they would be more open to a blended environment. Based on their experiences with distance/remote learning, students were asked about their priorities for distance education, which included attention to new learning and live meetings in small and large groups with their teachers.

While 65% of students said that they would be returning, another 29% of them said that they would only do so depending on their school district’s plan, which could include a variety of options for masking, social distancing, temperature checks, etc. 

In Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County residents were also surveyed with 77% of parents reporting that virtual learning was either a “no” or a “maybe” if given a choice when schools reopened. The school district, based on their collected data, is still anticipating tens of thousands of students opting for virtual instruction, causing an expansion of the Hillsborough Virtual School as they prepare for whatever fall will bring.

Students at Boston University indicated that most were excited about coming back to campus in the fall but had concerns about integrating with the surrounding community, health and safety concerns about facial coverings and social distancing, and also reported that they feel the depth and quality of their educational experience may suffer if they are not in person on campus.

If learning does continue to be online or blended, students have offered some insight into what is working and what is not working based on their three-month remote learning experiences.

Students that contributed responses to the New York Times’ Current Events Conversations Writing Prompts shared some of the same overlapping concerns, including that the workload was overwhelming at times, that for some, it’s impossible to learn anything new through distance learning, and that there was a lot of confusion involved. Some responses also talked about the preference for learning online and others talked about how much they miss the social aspects of school.

Some of these same concerns were echoed by respondents to a survey by New York’s Chalkbeat Education News Service in June. Students were concerned about the assignment of tasks devoid of explanations and elaborations. Students questioned how compact the day was versus regular, in-person school as well as the lack of communication around questions and deadlines for assignments.
In a Western New York suburban school district, a high school teacher asked her students to reflect on remote learning and the impact that it had on them. Here is a sampling of the questions that were asked:

  • How have you done overall with this "remote learning" time? What worked for you? What didn't?
  • Where has your motivation come from?
  • How are you balancing your course load? Has this time been more difficult managing assignments?
  • What advice do you have for the school if "remote learning" continues? 

And here are some of their responses (paraphrased or edited to summarize responses, invite clarity, or to omit identifying information):

  • Being at home kind of made work feel like an option.
  • Remote learning was a challenge.
  • My main motivation came from my parents, not from myself.
  • Some students reported having to take care of or teach siblings which impacted their work and ability to meet deadlines.
  • Students had trouble with organization and/or creating a schedule to get work done.
  • Advice for planning: be understanding and lenient with grades, deadlines, and expectations for learning new material.
  • Some students reported issues with devices and learning management systems.
  • Live video enabled questions and real time conversations that recorded video did not.
  • Not being able to go to school has made me miss it.
  • It is way easier to learn with a teacher in front of me.
  • Remote learning is way harder than being in the physical classroom.
  • (Before the quarantine) I didn’t go to (physical) school often. Remote learning was the best thing to happen.
  • When my mother tested positive for Covid-19, I missed weeks worth of work taking care of her.
  • I get sidetracked often, particularly when it comes to things I don’t want to do.
  • Using technology slows me down.
  • I find myself doing many other things which has caused stress because I’m not managing my assignments.
  • It will be very hard to continue with remote learning.

As districts are actively working on plans for the fall and whether their scenarios will be in-person, virtual, or a blend of these, it’s important to keep students and their perspectives at the center of the decision making processes. 

There are a lot of difficult choices ahead and we need to ensure that our decisions around those choices include student voices. From what has been shared here, and across multiple other resources about reopening schools, it’s clear that everyone, especially students, wants to see a return to normalcy. Within the confines and parameters that we are now working, students have ideas and comments about the quality of instruction, the attendance to their individual needs as online and in-person learners, and their desire for socialization and communication both with peers and teachers. Inviting student voices is critical to the success of any planned scenario for getting back to school.

Bauman, C. (2020, June 25). NYC students want to return to in-person learning this fall, but with caveats. Retrieved July 07, 2020, from
Laskowski, A. (2020, June 11). Students Voice Range of Emotions about Returning to Campus This Fall. Retrieved July 08, 2020, from
Sokol, M. (2020, June 10). Nearly half of Hillsborough parents, teachers wary of returning to schools. Retrieved July 05, 2020, from
The Learning Network. (2020, April 09). What Students Are Saying About Remote Learning. Retrieved July 09, 2020, from
Washoe Schools. (2020, July 7). COVID-19 Response / Reopening Surveys. Retrieved July 07, 2020, from
Photo by Anissa Thompson from