Too much screen time, too little class hours, not enough sleep, not enough challenge – this is a peek into the chaotic conundrums that students, teachers, and the administration had to navigate through last spring. Loomis Chaffee has learned from our community’s experience and the global education circle, improving students’ and teachers’ experience this fall drastically despite some frustrations and problems.
Education during a pandemic is difficult, and it would be unreasonable to ask the school to perfectly mimic the original Loomis experience with temporal differences and spatial restrictions. However, this fall’s experimentation of a completely new schedule seems to have made tremendous strides from last spring.
Since the school has switched courses to a half-synchronous half-asynchronous model, most online students have two or fewer Zoom classes per day. While the asynchronous material does require a laptop most of the time, students now have the freedom to decide when to do them, and thus manage their screen time accordingly. Compared to my average of three consecutive hours on Zoom last spring, two synchronous classes per day are much more manageable.
Loomis also looked at another major concern for students with time differences. With a twelve-hour time difference (ahead of EDT) for students in China and a three hour time difference (behind EDT) for California residents, the task at hand to maneuver a class schedule that suits all time zones seems impossible. The addition of 8:00 p.m. night classes this year greatly aids many international students to have a more reasonable sleep schedule, while not compromising the length of each class like last spring. While I certainly do not enjoy investigating diction and tone at 8:00 a.m., it seems like a much better schedule than that of my friend’s at St. Paul’s School, whose classes go until 2:00 a.m. in China.
There is another major change to the schedule–students only have three classes or less per mini-term. In exchange, Loomis returned to the longer 70-minute blocks with the same classes every day. With the myriad sources of distress in the world today, whether that is on racial identity or health concerns, focusing on only three subjects alleviates many students’ stress resulting from problems beyond school. Granted, the work for each class has doubled and intensified, but two hours of studying Physics feels much more simple and less stressful without having to concern me with Europeans’ conquests and Spanish past participle grammar all on the same day.
The return to long blocks, while necessary because of the mini-term schedule, also brings students and faculty closer to their familiar territory and a better learning experience.
“I prefer the 70-minute blocks to the 50-minute ones in the spring because it allows us to dive much deeper into material every class,” Janus Yuen ’21 said.
Eventually, this schedule comes from a place of necessity. Welcoming half of its students back on campus, Loomis put an eight-person cap for each in-person class to abide by social distancing. While the class sizes shrank, the number of faculty did not double overnight. So by having synchronous lessons every other day, faculty can have a reasonable workload while 725 students’ demand for classes could still be met, all under the circumstances of the class size restrictions.
This eight-person cap for each class even provides an unintended benefit. Although students cannot interact with the teacher synchronously more frequently, teachers have been able to pay more individual attention to all students because of the smaller class size. Students also feel more comfortable in articulating their ideas with a smaller class size, especially during online classes on Zoom.
I would admit, however, that I did not like this schedule initially, and still have several reservations. I wish that I could listen to my teacher explain equations in class and ask questions live instead of watching Youtube playlists on Edpuzzle; I wish that I could snuggle in my friend’s bean bag and watch Netflix, instead of waking up at 7 a.m. just to go to club meetings; I wished I could have side conversations and become closer friends with my classmates instead of sitting in the awkward silence of Zoom rooms.
There are many wishes, some of them Loomis should try and improve on, some of them no one has a solution to. For example, as an international student, I would suggest having student activities at some different time zones or becoming more lenient in terms of class engagement or “deep” policies. The administration is also working on reducing the intensity of work for both students and faculty and has given teachers more freedom in their curriculum design than previously planned.
I appreciate the amount of effort that the school and faculty have put in preparing for and adjusting to the fall term, especially the academic deans whose work I imagine must be astronomical. The students are also facing very different circumstances at home and on campus while trying to balance both school work, athletics, and other activities. Moreover, there is a growing mutual understanding bridging the two sides. With its inevitable confusions and frustrations, nonetheless, I think it’s safe to say that the fall term schedule has improved significantly from the panic of last spring, and we are making the most out of our current situation.