Philly teacher adjusting to digital education finds benefits, drawbacks

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By KYW Newsradio 1060

Part 7 of a new series: 'Live and Learn: Education in a COVID-19 World'
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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- At schools that have shifted to all-virtual classes, educators have been forced to adjust to online instruction on the fly. Teachers say they are finding benefits and drawbacks to digital education.

“All right, let’s get started. Good morning, 705, how are you today?”

Chelsey Cashman is not in her classroom at Wilson Middle School in Northeast Philadelphia. She is at home, teaching math, greeting her seventh-grade students on the screens of their Chromebooks.

“I've had a lot of kids say that they feel more comfortable because they're in their own home, you know? They get to sit in a comfy seat. They get to be in an environment that they're very used to, they’re very comfortable in," Cashman said.

Chelsey Cashman uses Google Classroom and other online tools to teach her Wilson Middle School classes.
Chelsey Cashman uses Google Classroom and other online tools to teach her Wilson Middle School classes. Photo credit Courtesy of Chelsey Cashman

Grades count now, and students can fail, so she says attendance is better than it was in the spring when the pandemic hit. But there are limits to how well she can supervise her virtual classroom.

“There are kids that log on. They don't have their camera on and, I mean, I don't know where they are, because I'm calling them, like, ‘Mark? Mark?’ Nothing," she said.

In lieu of a chalkboard, Cashman uses Jamboard, an app in Google Meet that lets her students see her live writing.

“OK, just look at my screen right now," she says to her students. "See how I'm doing it.”

Instead of raising their hands, kids participate by typing in the chat section all at once. Cashman says that actually gives her a better instant gauge of how many students have a handle on the material.

And while some students seem more focused in an online environment, Cashman says she can’t say for sure.

“Because I've never met these kids, and I don't know how they are in an actual classroom.  So that is one thing that's kind of strange, because I honestly -- some kids have never put their camera on. I have no idea what some of my kids look like," she said.

One positive: Discipline has hardly been an issue. Cashman says, aside from an occasional inappropriate comment, students have been well-behaved compared to being in person where their classmates can egg them on.

Cashman says she’s using her personal laptop. Her antiquated district laptop, she says, is still in her classroom at school. She hasn’t spent money on technologh, but she did buy a chair, a desk and a lamp to outfit her home classroom.

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The coronavirus pandemic has altered life in many ways for most of us, including the way students are learning. Over the next few weeks, KYW Newsradio is taking a look at the impact of COVID-19 on education with "Live and Learn: Education in a COVID-19 World."