Claire McKechnie: Adapting to the Virtual Classroom

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Virtual classrooms have required students like Claire McKechnie to adapt, so it's only the classroom and not the learning that’s virtual. Here’s her Perspective.

Back in the pre-COVID lockdown days, I could always answer when my parents asked me what I learned in school. I could visualize my teacher’s slide show and posters with great pictures of William and Mary and the English Civil War. “Mom and Dad, I learned about the Glorious Revolution! … What did you learn today?”

My mind associates key details about the places I’m in, and permanently connects them to a memory. These visual memory cues drive instant recall of information.

I’m a junior in high school, and I’m trying really hard to adapt to remote learning. Given the solitary confinement of my at-home classroom, it’s just not the same. It’s hard to remember what I learned. My mind is stuck in the same, lonely, place sitting behind a tiny desk in the dark corner of my cluttered room. The only thing that changes between classes are the talking heads on my Zoom calls.

While many think that studying in a quiet room or library is the best, research has proven just the opposite. A UCLA study confirmed that changing rooms results in better memory. A New York Times article noted the “psychologists found that college students who studied a list of 40 vocabulary words in two different rooms — one windowless and cluttered, the other modern, with a view on a courtyard — did far better on a test than students who studied the words twice, in the same room.”

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To make up for the lost memory cues in virtual school, I attempted switching rooms every Zoom class. But my family is loud and takes up a lot of space and my plan failed. Instead, I switched up my study spots. I’ve studied in my backyard, in a hammock and at an outdoor cafe! The change in scenery has made a difference, but I’m still not learning to my best potential, as I continue to go to class in my bedroom, instead of a classroom.

Many students want to go back to in-person school for the social, emotional aspect of being with other students and real-life teachers. But for me, given the difference between online and in-person school, I want to go back to in-person school just to learn.

With a Perspective, I’m Claire McKechnie.

Claire McKechnie is a junior at Redwood High School in Larkspur.