Students and Faculty React to Online Learning System

In an email to the community on March 31, the Head of School’s office announced that Andover would be adopting an online learning system for the entirety of the Spring Term in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Policies such as asynchronous classes and pass/fail grading have been enacted to address the array of circumstances and time zones of students.

Some students have voiced concerns with how they are adapting to the current system. Sara Coddington ’23 shared her experience not working in her optimal learning environment.

“It’s not the learning system itself. It’s the fact that I’m at home, because home is such an unproductive place for me, especially where I am now… I’m at my grandparents house, and this house is full,” said Coddington.

In addition to dealing with external distractions posed by remote learning, students also miss their peers and various activities at school. Henry Crater ’20 had looked forward to his many performances and Senior Spring.

“I think the biggest general impact is probably the fact that we have no end… no month of May, graduation, outdoor weather fun. And prom and graduation are the biggest things…The biggest personal impact is…this was supposed to be my busiest term of performances, and it’s all being stripped away from me… [And I miss] seeing my best friends every day and…just sitting in my common room listening to everybody in my dorm,” said Crater.

The feeling of longing does not only affect students; faculty members find themselves missing the Andover community as well. Clyfe Beckwith, Assistant Head of School for Teaching and Learning and Instructor in Physics, noted the energy that the community always [a]brought to campus.

“I would love to see even some shenanigans, you know. Just walking on the paths and having a casual interaction,” said Beckwith. “The energy that comes with sports, the energy that comes with just being in the dining hall together, the energy of clubs, the energy of students interacting with each other about an assignment…Is that still happening? I don’t know.”

The new asynchronous learning format has caused some students to struggle to connect with teachers about deadlines and expectations. T.J. Briggs ’22 expressed dissatisfaction regarding the decreased quality of communication.

Briggs said, “I don’t know what’s expected of me all the time, and also I’m not really communicating with my teachers just as much, because even if I were to email them every day, it’s like not I’m not seeing them face-to-face where a lot of stuff could happen.”

In order to best facilitate the learning process during this time, many materials are now being digitized. The Oliver Wendell Holmes Library (OWHL) has partnered with various institutions in an effort to create a National Emergency Library. Michael Barker, Director of Academy Research, Information and Library Services, described other ways that students can get help remotely.

“[The National Emergency Library has] all the other stuff that we had that were electronic, like the journals, the databases, and stuff like that, so I’m really hopeful [students] still talk to librarians through chat. They can also write emails directly and probably get on a Zoom call if … needed. I want to be there to support that learning for sure,” said Barker.

Other faculty members are also finding creative ways to keep their students engaged via online learning. Abbey Siegfried, Instructor in Musical Theatre and Dance, shared how students in Chamber Music 500 are working with each other and with Holly Barnes, Instructor in Music and Director of Performance, to create group pieces.

“Ms. Barnes is helping compile [student videos] into a video where they all play together, so it’s really incredible technology. But it’s also just this incredible irony that they’re making music together, but to make it together, they have to make it apart,” said Siegfried.

Though the modified learning structure has presented a set of challenges, students and faculty alike are working together to exercise more leniency under the unique conditions. Coddington is grateful for the overall flexibility of the current learning format.

“I’m very thankful to the Andover faculty for being so adaptable about it all, considering that I’m in a different time zone, and considering all the circumstances that can happen and possibly happen… For example, I was sick last week, too, so I was feverish and I couldn’t really do a lot of work, and all my teachers were really understanding,” said Coddington.

Siegfried acknowledged the mixed emotions in the community during this time, but has confidence in the community’s ability to retain its feeling of interconnectedness, especially as observed in her own teaching environment.

“None of us got into teaching and into music because we like being alone. All of ensemble playing and singing in choir is about being with people, and that loss of community is really hard, but it’s … also exciting to think about ways to stay connected,” said Siegfried. “I think it’s important to all of us to try to maintain as much human connection as we can in the midst of all this.”