by Anna Perez, Staff Writer, October 2020

This school year has been unlike any other in Nobles history. Over the summer, faculty spent countless hours coming up with a plan that would allow the community to experience a semester as close to normal as possible. When a final plan was announced, each student and faculty member had a choice: would they return to campus in the hybrid model, or would they remain fully virtual?

While some chose to return to campus, others decided to continue connecting virtually. These individuals include both faculty and students, and in the first few weeks, there has been a wide range of both positive and negative experiences and reactions regarding all-virtual Nobles.

“The most difficult thing about being all-virtual is just the disconnectedness – seeing that everyone is in the room and you’re not.”

Sydney Asnis (Class I)

Many faculty report that distance teaching creates a feeling of disconnect from the students. Former Head of School and current English teacher Richard Baker said, “I’m not as much of a real person to my students now as I would be in an in-person class.” This difficulty in connecting with students makes it harder to have an engaging classroom environment. Director of music Michael Turner explained, “It’s very difficult to engage and get any kind of classroom dynamic going [virtually].”

This feeling of distance from the community does not stop with faculty. “I think in general, the most difficult thing about being all-virtual is just the disconnectedness – seeing that everyone is in the room and you’re not,” said Sydney Asnis (Class I). 

For most fully virtual students, it is much harder to engage on in-person days. Luvis Lu (Class II), discussing his science classes, commented, “Labs are not that engaging for me personally… It’s just a camera and me watching other people do it.” Not only are labs and activities difficult, but participating in discussions and asking questions is more difficult for virtual students. “Sometimes it takes [my teachers] a while to realize I was raising my hand,” said Mini Xue (Class III). Focus can be diminished through the inability to participate, as well. Dorothy Zhang (Class III) said, “It’s already hard enough to participate, so it’s even harder to make sure you’re focused.”

Many teachers feel that their classes have been negatively impacted by these challenges. Computer science teacher Dominic Manzo said, “There is difficulty in connecting with students you haven’t taught previously.” On top of this challenge, when students are on campus with a virtual teacher, they call into Zoom class while wearing their masks, making it tougher to hear them. “Some people’s voices were not built to be muted in a mask, so it’s hard,” said Baker.

Although virtuality presents many challenges, students found benefits to being fully virtual. “I live kind of far from Nobles, so it saves [me] my commute every day,” said Zhang. In addition to extra time in their days, some students feel that being at home is less stressful right now than being at school. “I can engage in class more attentively instead of worrying about COVID,” Lu said. 

Faculty have also noticed benefits. Turner has seen improved practice time due to the all-virtual music program. “Because performances are recorded, it’s up to each individual performer to know their part as thoroughly as possible,” said Turner. “I think that, at least in most cases, it has increased the amount of time that students are practicing between rehearsals.”

Even with the challenges, students and faculty alike feel that Nobles has done an excellent job accommodating fully virtual community members. Manzo commented, “I honestly can’t think of anything they could do to make it better.” Nobles has also offered support to make all-virtual teachers and students feel welcomed by the community. “When I decided that I was going to be virtual, Nobles could not have been more understanding,” said Asnis. According to Turner, he has not felt judged for his decision to teach remotely. “I’ve felt empowered, I’ve felt respected, and never stigmatized by the fact that I’m here [at home] and other folks are on campus.”

Some small improvements were suggested by some students: being more mindful of how much time students spend on screen and putting everyone on Zoom meetings to increase engagement, among others. However, even those students feel that Nobles has done well overall and continues to improve. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges in schools. Despite all of the difficulties that distanced learning and teaching impose on our fully virtual community members, they have still enjoyed the benefits of virtuality. As the semester goes on, our ability to connect virtually will likely improve, and we can get closer to “normal.”