Schools, educators, and administrators have their hands full trying to chart out online learning. We students think we can help. This 3-part series neatly summarizes the views of over 1 billion students around the world. While we of course didn't talk to every student in this billion-plus, we spoke to a representative, diverse group of students across disciplines, school levels, and countries to synthesize this letter to administrators and educators worldwide. The aim of this series is to give institutions a little insight into what the current systems of learning feel like to the key stakeholders (that's us! Hiii. 🙋🏽‍♀️), so that they can provide the best possible student learning experience from here on out.

Dear Schools, Educators, and Administrators,

From March through May, I paid for the privilege of spending six long hours every day staring at talking heads and lagging voices on my computer screen, from literally the 12-hour opposite timezone. I participated with peers who had unstable internet and computers that couldn't handle live video streaming for 5-8 hours per day - a battery and bandwidth intensive operation. I wasn't sure what was due when, or how to get help when I needed it. I didn't know how to effectively communicate with my peers apart from sending random messages on social media. And to top it off, I always had this general feeling that my privacy wasn't being respected based on what I was reading all over the news about class-action lawsuits and the leading videoconferencing softwares being heavily adopted by schools.

By the end of each day, I was done. The video lecture burnout is real. Hours-long videoconferencing is a lonely, disconnected, mind-numbing experience that makes it difficult to concentrate, learn, or collaborate when they were over. And this underlines one of the most frustrating parts of what happened this past semester: lectures are often a minority of what a student partakes in whilst at college, but for various reasons became the majority of the past few months. What has become clear: if educational institutions want to retain their students, they're going to have to understand that we spend a ton of time learning outside of lectures, and give us the time and space to do so.

3 things we actually need (and want) from our schools

Respectfully, on behalf of students all over the planet, let me tell you what we need in our world outside of Zoom:

👩‍❤️‍💋‍👩We need ways to communicate with and collaborate with our peers.

To learn from them and truly work with them. No, the Zoom chat bar does not count. I want to be able to share my notes with my friends, and prepare for tests with them. Like we can on Spotify, I want my classmates to be able to follow my study playlists, and I want to work on collaborative study playlists with them. I want interactive digital tools that make this possible (yes, they exist!).

COVID-19 forced us to forego all the parts about our college education that we adored. For example, my classmates and I subjecting ourselves to unhealthy doses of caffeine and fries between classes. Scrambling in the library to complete that last statistics problem set. Savoring the social spontaneity of spending way too long at lunch tables chatting about that last comment in ethics class. And most of all, rallying the crew to get a beer at a nearby bar to celebrate passing the economics exam.

We know you can't replace these specific types of events, and that's okay. But we need you to help us with technology that brings needed social learning experiences back into our school lives. They do exist, they help us to feel connected, and they help us to learn. And that's better for you, too.

🙅🏻‍♀️We don't want to spend six hours on Zoom lectures.

Frankly, we don't have the attention span for it (and neither do you). While we do appreciate deep-dives into topics we're learning about, these can certainly be delivered asynchronously. We want to spend our precious synchronous teacher-time getting nugget-sized pearls of wisdom from Professors that we can interact with. This is the value of school! I can learn plenty of things online, but your school gives me people that I want to talk to. My teachers. Don't teach me on Zoom, but feel free to ask me questions there.

Technology should be leveraged to make the learning bit more efficient, intuitive, and fun. Think Skribbl and of how it allows people to interact. Think Minecraft. Animal Crossing. Civilization. I want to be able to turn learning into a series of digital games so that I can actually learn through engagement. We can and should be building on the in-person experience because of what technology enables.

🧘🏽‍♀️We need space to actually learn.

This is the most important thing. Please remember that synchronous learning is but a fraction of what we do as students. The majority of our student 'careers' are spent asynchronously - at least with respect to our professors and classes. We cannot possibly spend six synchronous hours on Zoom and then return to our studying.

We need you to limit Zoom to what is necessary, and then to give us the tools and opportunities to apply what we've learned. A large proportion of learning happens outside of the classroom - so give me that space, in physical and mental time, to mull over what I'm learning. Let me sit with the material, discuss it with my peers, turn it into flashcards to play with, and truly take it in. Let me learn.

If we want a successful Fall 2020 Term

Dearest schools, educators, and administrators, I promise you that I'm not the only student with these thoughts. I promise you that students all over the world are feeling the same way. We want you to know that we have a world outside Zoom that is critical for our effective learning. Don't subject us to long, unproductive hours of lectures on a computer screen. Yes, people ask questions in Zoom chat, but let's be real. We need to instead leverage modern technology to create a rounded, effective learning experience.

We get that you can't re-create the authentic college experience through video, and that, to an extent, your hands are tied. But from our view, there are many more unexplored avenues that will engage students, and that will result in better learning outcomes, and that's where we need to go. And if you don't want to join us and go together, then we may not be back this year.

No hard feelings. ✌🏽

Interested in learning about how you can provide a better learning experience?


About the author:

Sehr Taneja is studying Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. She lives for the magic of conversations that change her perspective, books that allow her to dream, and ideas that  transform the world. Her survival kit includes chocolates, tea, and puppies. Follow her on Twitter @sehrtaneja6.

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