Technology Turns Quarantined Teens Into Virtual Virtuosos
Online learning is particularly challenging for Michigan students who need to work in close contact as a team to master their lessons. WKAR’s Kevin Lavery reports on how one music teacher’s virtual class is adapting.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story erroneously reported the OHS football season had been cancelled.
The band room at Okemos High School is awash with the morning sun as Mark Stice gets ready for the day.
For 14 years, he’s watched hundreds of students file into this room to fill it with music.
But this year, Stice waits for them to log onto a video call, setting the mood with some background music.
“Good morning, everybody,” Stice says cheerfully. “Let’s be ready to have another positive mindset here as we look to continue to grow, even in this online environment.”
The pandemic has shut down many staples of high school life in Okemos.
The usual benchmarks of a normal school year don’t exist.
But Stice sees that as a chance to experiment.
Transforming a cluster of students playing solo from home into a cohesive band would be virtually impossible if not for technology.
The class uses an app called Upbeat Music.
Each student records their own part.
Then, the app renders each file into one blended sound.
Because I am only seeing my students in three separate times throughout the week, it really sticks that this has to count.
The school day itself has changed, too.
Most days at OHS include three one-hour class periods, with a large block of independent work time built into the afternoon. Wednesdays follow a quicker pace, with six 45-minute sessions.
Stice says having less frequent interaction with his students prompts him to step up his game.
“Because I’m only seeing my students in three separate times throughout the week, now it really sticks that this has to count,” he says.
It’s probably too soon to tell how virtual education will affect learning outcomes this school year.
That is our fear. It just makes us feel like we are constantly doing a disservice to our students. But at the same time it is making us explore what we can do and what resources are out there to give them the very best experience that we can.
Last March, as the pandemic forced Michigan schools to close, the state sought permission to waive standardized assessment tests like the M-STEP.
However, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos denied that request in September.
Now, Stice and his fellow teachers wrestle with this question: Are their students truly getting what they need to succeed?
“That’s our fear,” he concedes. “It just makes us feel like we’re constantly doing a disservice to our students. But at the same time, that’s making us really explore what we can do and what resources are out there to give them the very best experience that we can.”
Virtual classes will continue in Okemos schools for the foreseeable future.
The district says it will resume in-person classes when the Lansing region attains a lower risk phase.
But as autumn settles in, health officials are watching for a possible second wave that may forestall that plan indefinitely.