Although Deerfield made significant efforts to improve the bubble since the fall, such as requiring day students to board on campus, many students have chosen to attend virtually for winter term. Outside Deerfield, online learning has become as prevalent if not more than in-person learning. Some schools such as The Lawrenceville School even decided to remain online for the remainder of winter term.
Motivations for opting to learn remotely vary from student to student. Assistant Director of Academic Support Jess Pfeffer, said, “The number of students changes daily – there are students who are remote for the full term, students who return late to campus or who are in the health center because they had to leave campus, and students who are temporarily learning virtually because of a slew of other reasons.”
Some students were unable to return because of visa restrictions. According to the most recent update by the Student Exchange and Visitor Program, which is overseen by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), international students are not allowed to return to the United States if they decide to take online classes for the entire term.
Another common reason has been health/family issues. Since the pandemic’s situation is different for every single family or individual, it is impossible to classify everyone’s personal circumstances into a single category.
While this was a struggle for some international students, Dr. Pfeffer noted that domestic students were not any less likely to learn remotely. “There aren’t any significant trends in terms of remote learner demographics: students are both domestic and international and are spread across all grades,” she said.
It is difficult to give an exact number of students learning virtually as it changes every day due to adjustments from COVID test results and the number of people shifting in and out of quarantine. Dr. Pfeffer estimated that by the end of the winter term, about 5% of students will be learning remotely–a trend that will likely continue to the end of winter term.
For many students, remote learning has been easier this term than in Spring of 2020, when Deerfield first transitioned online.
Discussing his experience with virtual learning this term, Alex Yuk ’21 said, “Compared to the online learning experience from last spring, this two-class schedule is much better for a student learning remotely. It is significantly easier to communicate with only two teachers than to talk with five or six when I need to miss a class or other matters.”
Some students have had to transition online because they were close contacts with a student who tested positive. Hugh Braccia ‘21 commented about this shift: “The transition from being in person was seamless, and all my teachers have made sure that I still feel a part of the class even though I am not physically there.”
In addition to classes, many clubs and alliances have created ways for students abroad to continue to participate virtually.
Mark Chung ’21, leader of the Asian Student Alliance, said, “From providing online alternatives for all of our meetings, and working closely with remote board members to discuss ideas on how we can connect with off-campus students, the ASA has been committed to adapting our work to accommodate everyone.”
However, with the majority of the Deerfield community on campus, there are unique challenges that both remote and in-person students face when trying to interact with each other.
Yuk said, “One issue I faced while learning online is participating in in-class discussions. It is very difficult to communicate actively with my peers when everyone else is there in person.”
Time difference has also been a prevalent issue among remote learners. Ahmed El Wabory ‘22 said, “I think the hardest aspect of remote learning is time management. I am currently in Egypt, and the classes are in the middle of the night for me.”
Although communication with teachers has been convenient for some learning online, others have faced difficulties when relying on email exchange to stay in touch or contact teachers. Aerin Lo ‘22 said, “One of the difficulties I’ve faced was understanding the material and not falling behind. It was hard because it would take around 8 hours for teachers to respond to my clarifying questions and by then they would’ve introduced new concepts already (given the pace of the classes).”
To address problems like these, Chung hopes that student-run clubs and alliances will provide remote learners a way to provide feedback to the school.
“Accommodating remote learners has been challenging this term, with conflicting schedules and more students being off-campus leaving little room for alliances and clubs to work with,” he said. “The ASA [aims] to not only be a way for remote learners to stay connected to campus, but [also] to provide a platform for them to share voices on how we as a school can improve.”