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The Importance of Student and Teacher Interaction During Distance-Based Learning

April 23, 2020

At KI, we’re conducting a six-week interview series about distance-based learning. Each week we will check in with students or educators to understand how they’re navigating and feeling about their new virtual education environments. We hope to gain insights from those who are actually going through it. During this time, we’ll share our thoughts about similarities, differences and what can be learned as we all embrace a new style of learning and instruction.

This week we had the opportunity to connect with three high school students from around the country. Their honest answers to our questions led to an ‘aha’ moment that has inspired us. As you’ll learn, these students wanted to be heard.

When we set out on this interview series, we cast a wide net. It can be challenging to find students willing to share their honest opinions. Nothing could have been further from the truth with these high school students. Each participant not only adopted long-form interview response but thanked us for the opportunity to share their opinions of distance-based learning.

I am in awe at how open and interested these high schoolers were in not just what we at KI are doing with this interview series, but WHY. We want to extend our sincerest thanks to these three students; a freshman, sophomore and junior who all attend public schools.

Interview #5: 9th Grader, Public High School

KI: What did you have for breakfast?

9th Grader: Cereal.

KI: What do you like about distance-based learning?

9th Grader: It’s not too much; hardly any actual work.

KI: Why do you think that is?

9th Grader: Everything is optional. Assignments are provided, but are optional or recommended only, no calls but email to talk with teachers one-on-one.

KI: What do you wish was different about distance-based learning?

9th Grader: That some work would be mandatory.

KI: Why?

9th Grader: None of the work counts towards my grade so there is no incentive to try.

KI: Why not just do the work to learn anyway?

9th Grader: I do, but it’d be nice if it counted towards my grade.

KI: Can you tell us about a project or assignment you had fun with?

9th Grader: We did a “Book talk” which meant I recorded myself discussing a book I chose myself and shared it with the class, and we each commented on the other’s book.

KI: What did you like about that?

9th Grader: It was cool to hear others’ book recommendations (or lack thereof) and fun to be a book critic myself.

KI: Was it fun interacting with the class that way?

9th Grader: Yeah, we don’t do video calls so it was nice to see everyone’s recordings and chat in the chatroom about the books.

KI: Can you tell me about a project or assignment that you didn’t enjoy?

9th Grader: In Spanish class we were told to do this project on a new website that sounded fun, but the website didn’t work.

KI: Why was that a disappointment?

9th Grader: I thought the project sounded fun, kind of like a game, so when it didn’t work we just went back to the usual vocabulary work, which was a letdown.

KI: When things return to “normal,” would you want to continue some amount of distance- based learning?

9th Grader: None whatsoever.

KI: That’s a strong answer, why?

9th Grader: Getting work done at home is challenging, not that it’s distracting. It’s simply not where I want to “be in school”. I like the idea that school happens somewhere outside of home so when I’m home, I’m just home.

KI: Anything more you’d like to add about this whole experience for you/your friends?

9th Grader: I’m most upset that my lacrosse season got cancelled. I’m hoping for some level of summer lacrosse with my high school because it’s my favorite sport. I was excited to start high school ball. Seniors have it the worst, I can’t imagine missing my last high school season because of this.

Interview #6: 10th Grader, Public High School

KI: What are you studying?

10th Grader: A variety of subjects. A lot of core learning topics and I opted in for gym classes. Biology and (2) Math classes (geometry and advanced algebra). Base Language Arts. My first AP Class, too (AP European History).

KI: What did you have for breakfast?

10th Grader: I hop into class right away when I wake up but take a break around 10 a.m. for a bowl of cereal (usually Frosted Flakes, Fruit Loops, or Honey Nut Cheerios) or maybe I make myself a smoothie.

KI: What do you like about distance-based learning?

10th Grader: I guess the way that my District has handled it, it’s been pretty interactive. We’ve had live classes via Google Hangouts. The format, the way the teachers have set this up, has been very organized and helpful in how they explain things. It’s also not very time consuming so I can get it done pretty quick.

KI: Why has having it organized been good?

10th Grader: In a regular school day, especially for kids who struggle learning for long periods of time, this helps. I can get a little antsy towards the end of the day so I think the format helps. I get a step-by-step agenda of when I need to complete things. It’s all available to me at any time to see.

KI: What do you wish was different about distance-based learning?

10th Grader: It’s not my favorite thing. Obviously, I’d love to go back to school. If I could change anything though, I’d probably do one live class a day for each class. It’d be great if every teacher did a video, as it helps me understand the unit we are in. So, more videos to watch would be helpful.

KI: Why would more live classes each day be helpful?

10th Grader: The atmosphere. At the beginning of the year I complained about having to go to school, but now I’d like to go back to interact with my teachers, classmates and for group activities. So much of this is just independent and on my own. If I get stuck in something, I don’t have a partner, peer, or teacher to help me.

KI: Can you tell me about a project or assignment you had fun with?

10th Grader: In Math class we did a compound interest problem. We got to pick a college, a job, and a house, and had to mix in calculations surrounding savings for the college, and the type of job we’d need to have to afford the house we bought. I had to perform compound interest equations for what a college savings plan would result in over 16 years. I liked the real world math side of this. Especially, compared to random math projects, where I ask “when would I ever use this?” this was fun.

KI: Why was it fun?

10th Grader: It was relatable.

KI: Can you tell me about a project or assignment that you did not enjoy?

10th Grader: I’d just totally be up for more projects.

KI: Why would you be up for more projects?

10th Grader: I feel like because I’m not the best test taker, that projects are better for me. If I’m given a time span with resources around me, projects are more fun and make schooling less stressful for me.

KI: When things return to “normal,” would you want to continue some amount of distance-based learning?

10th Grader: I’d rather go fully back to school.

KI: Why?

10th Grader: As much as distance-based learning has been good, and the teachers have done a great job, there’s nothing that compares to the school environment. During the school day you have more time to connect with your teachers in person. While Google Meets have been helpful, it’s not as easy to connect when needed.

Interview #7: 11th Grader, Public High School

KI: What are you studying?

11th Grader: My classes this year are physics, language, Latin (my Mom made me), computer science, and economics.

KI: What did you have for breakfast?

11th Grader: An apple and bagel that my sister made (she’s gotten really into bagel making during quarantine).

KI: What do you like about distance-based learning?

11th Grader: I think that the course load is a little bit easier. I only have each class two times a week. So, I find that what we are doing, and the assignments, are easier, although they tend to take a little bit longer.

KI: Why, although easier, are assignments sometimes taking longer?

11th Grader: Usually, you have class time to do the assignment, and then homework afterwards, but because you don’t have teacher guidance to help, and there’s a 2 hour window for each course, the amount of work is sometimes being packed in, depending on the subject.

KI: What do you wish was different about distance-based learning?

11th Grader: I don’t get to talk to my teachers as much. They hold Zoom calls but I don’t actually get to talk to them one-on-one. Sometimes our assignments aren’t very clear, so clarification and more time to talk to my teachers would be great.

KI: Why would you want more time to talk with your teachers?

11th Grader: I enjoy talking with my teachers. It helps having someone explain something to you first-hand versus watching a video. For some of my classes, they’ve given videos that others have made, so they are teaching differently than my teachers do. An example is my AP Physics class. The videos are from the AP Board, so they are pretty dry. I actually fell asleep during one of the videos, so I had to watch it again.

KI: Can you tell me about a project or assignment that you had fun with?

11th Grader: In Latin, we usually just translate, but instead, we got to read a Roman play, in English, and then draw a picture of it. We are also reading this play in Latin, but it was fun to do something different.

KI: Why was this fun for you?

11th Grader: It was fun because it was different than watching a video and responding to a question, which is basically all that distance-based learning is.

KI: Can you tell me about a project or assignment you did not enjoy?

11th Grader: I am bad at watching and responding. So, with no instruction, it’s just really hard for me. I have so many questions that pop up in my mind when watching something, but with 1 hour a week on Zoom, I often can’t remember my questions when I have the opportunity to ask about them.

KI: Why is watching a video and responding not enjoyable?

11th Grader: For me, it’s just really boring. The topics presented are done by a monotone speaker, and you can’t participate yourself. After you’ve done 2 hours of one subject, it’s just a lot. I’m just gassed out at the point.

KI: When things return to “normal,” would you want to continue some amount of distance-based learning?

11th Grader: I do enjoy some parts. It’s pretty nice to be able to get work done at home. You do waste a lot of time at school, with things like passing periods and lunch. I don’t want distance-based learning for weeks on end, but I’d take a day or two here and there.

KI: Why would you take a day or two here or there?

11th Grader: It just gives me a lot more flexibility to do my work, in the time that I want to do it in, and in the place that I want to do it in.


We hope you enjoyed these honest High School interviews. Next week we empathize with College and University students who are scaffolding the experience of distance-based learning.

by Jonathan Matta  National Education Leader

Jonathan Matta is KI's National Education Leader, supporting organizations in their pursuit of solving complex challenges by applying the power of design. Matta previously served as the Vice President of Design at RXBAR, where he led a design team that applied a variety of design strategies, chiefly Design Thinking, to a multitude of organizational challenges. Jonathan holds an altMBA from Seth Godin's program, along with completed courses from Stanford University's "d.school" and IDEO-U. He received his undergraduate degree from DePaul University.

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