On Feb. 25, SIS began its first day of virtual school learning, a product of the rapid spread of the coronavirus across the nation and rising concerns about its potential harmful effects on student and faculty health. Similar to many precaution steps taken by international schools through affected countries in Southeast Asia, the SIS leadership team and teachers agreed that having students come to school—a crowded, enclosed indoor facility—would compromise student and faculty health, therefore was not appropriate under the current medical circumstances in South Korea.
“I believe that the school made the correct choice in that it prioritized the health of its students and faculty in this situation,” said Younchan Hwang (11), SIS student. “I was very happy that the school decided to adopt virtual learning as a replacement of the in-class education we would be missing in the next few weeks. Particularly, I was glad that the school decided to keep our spring and summer break as it is. As a junior taking numerous AP exams in May, I needed spring break to prepare for these tests. Moreover, I had also planned to attend camps during this summer break, so had the school decided to compromise the loss of in-school learning days by removing spring break or shortening summer break, this decision would have affected my preplanned schedule.”
There were numerous speculations among the student body about what would happen if school was to be cancelled due to the coronavirus, ranging from rumors that spring break would be gone to hearsay that summer break would be shortened. E-learning, many agreed, was the best approach that the school could have taken under the current circumstances. In particular, since a large portion of the preexisting SIS educational curriculum was already computer-based, many students reported that e-learning did not feel entirely abnormal. While there were a few conflicts in taking summative assessments in some classes, the transition from in-classroom learning to virtual learning went smoothly overall.
“As a student who has been exposed to a lot of online-based curriculums in high school, virtual learning was not such a new concept to me,” said Alex Hyun (11), 12-year attendee of SIS. “Ask current high school students, and most of them would say that they are more comfortable with typing up assignments rather than hand-writing them. This is how accustomed students are with using online mechanisms to aid their learning. Especially, SIS students have had plenty of experience with learning school content through their computers, ranging from watching online lectures to completing homework through Google Docs. Therefore, I felt as though virtual learning was not such a foreign concept for the affected students, at least in my opinion.”
Moreover, virtual learning is beneficial to students in that it reduces commuting time, which takes up a significant amount of the day for many SIS students. As busy high school students, every minute is precious; cutting down on upwards of an hour of commuting time gives students more time to catch up on homework and direly-needed rest. However, there are certain negative aspects of virtual learning that must also be considered when evaluating its effectiveness. For example, although virtual learning can almost exactly replicate the learning experience students receive in a classroom setting, it cannot reproduce the social interactions students make during and between classes. In essence, while virtual learning is the best option that the school could have chosen under the current circumstances, both its pros and cons should be determined and weighed so that no harm comes to the current level of education for students. So far along the virtual learning implementation process, this effort to keep to in-classroom quality of learning seems to have been successful for both students and teachers.
“[The leadership team believes that] the implementation and move to e-learning and virtual instruction has gone very well,” said James Gerhard, high school principal. “We are impressed with the high levels of engagement from students asking questions in class and the manner in which students are responding so positively to 1:1 interactions and formative feedback with their teachers. Our faculty were well prepared for this transition and our students have responded very appropriately in a time of trying circumstances. We continue to make innovations everyday and we are hoping to get through to March 30th in the same great way that we have started off. Mr. Macklin and I have also checked into every class multiple times and can also view instruction and teacher-student interaction. This includes 1:1 conferencing, small group work, and whole group virtual instruction. We have been impressed with the responses and effort of both faculty and students.”