Students have varying experiences taking online courses through Virtual Virginia

The+student+dashboard+for+Virtual+Virginia+courses.+The+dashboard+shows+the+students%27+grades+and+their+assignments.+

Oziel Valdez

The student dashboard for Virtual Virginia courses. The dashboard shows the students’ grades and their assignments.

Kasey Thompson, Page Editor

Classes have been switched to the online format because of the pandemic. This means teachers who have spent years teaching in person must now learn how to teach online, as well as the students now having to adjust to online learning. While classes have had to change to fit online curriculum, there has always been a virtual option for students. Virtual Virginia (VVA) is a program that was available prior to the pandemic. Some upperclassmen have taken advantage of the program and taken classes that did not fit into their schedule. Senior Stella Alexiou is one of those students. She has taken AP Macroeconomics and is currently taking AP US Government and AP Comparative Government with the program. 

“I’ve actually had a pretty good experience through VVA. It was so convenient that there was already a system set up in place for virtual classes and teachers that have been doing this for years. It isn’t like they just started doing virtual classes because of the pandemic. I’ve had a great time, just because of how organized and experienced the teachers are [at] managing the online setting,” Alexiou said.

Virtual Virginia is a less interactive program. The work is done asynchronously without the help from a teacher in live time. There are many classes offered at multiple different skill levels that are not offered at HHS. For senior Lizzy Healy, the asynchronous classes can be good or bad. She has taken Chemistry and AP Literature through Virtual Virginia.

“My experience has been really hit or miss. My first experience was bad and my second experience was really great. They’ve kind of evened each other out. I hate to say this, but if you’re a week into the class and you’re not liking it, I’d get out,” Healy said.

“I really [enjoy my classes]. Especially my Comparative Government class, I actually have great things to say about it and the teacher. She’s done a really good job of connecting with students. It feels like an actual teacher, which isn’t the case for a lot of VVA classes. I really didn’t like AP Macro and AP Government, but overall the content has been really, really interesting,” Alexiou said. 

“Chemistry was awful, a really, really bad experience. My teacher was just MIA and I had to do everything on my own. Chemistry is a really hands-on subject so that was a struggle. However, my AP Literature teacher was really, really good. She would post live sessions every single day that we could go back and watch. I couldn’t watch them in live time [though] because I had my other classes at that time. She was also really amazing about whenever I posted an essay or any type of assignment, she would give you a multiple paragraph comment on what you could improve on and how you could get better for the exams, so she was really, really good,” Healy said. 

Because the work is asynchronous, students have to schedule time in between their other classes to get the work done. This requires students to have self discipline. For Alexiou, she manages both her VVA classes and her commitments to the Governor’s school. 

“The Virtual Virginia classes this semester actually replaced my HHS classes, so I only have my Governor’s school classes twice a week. Then, on the days that I don’t have school, which is Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I actually designate periods of time throughout that day to work on both my Governor’s school work and my Virtual Virginia classes. My VVA classes don’t have an assignment of the week, one of them actually assigned stuff every day. So, I have to stay on top of that and make sure I have time to do that,” Alexiou said. 

For Healy, she has to manage both HHS and VVA classes. 

“I would wake up at 7:45 A.M. and then I would work from then until the end of first block, that’s when I would do AP Literature. Then, whatever I didn’t finish in that timeframe, I would do after school. It was normally about three to four hours a day [overall]. My teacher would send out a list of all the assignments on either Saturday or Sunday for the upcoming week so that we knew when everything was due,” Healy said. 

Students must do all the work on their own time without the help of a teacher or live sessions to ask questions, which can make it difficult to stay on top of work. For Healy to get on top of her work, she has to keep organized as motivation. 

“I guess the biggest motivator [to get the work done on my own] is that I’m a pretty self determined person and just seeing that to do list that I had to do each week and crossing things off. I’m a person that really likes organization and having that list really helped me,” Healy said. 

For Alexiou, this motivation comes naturally as she loves to learn. 

“I really like learning and I like the content that I’m learning, especially with my comparative government class. So, really just not stressing about the grades that I get and kind of just trying to learn as much as I can has really just pushed me through especially now that I’ve already gotten into colleges. It’s kind of hard to motivate myself for the grade because I know that the grade doesn’t really matter at this point. So, just trying to learn as much as I can and [maintaining] a good connection with my teacher [is my goal],” Alexiou said. 

HHS online classes and VVA online courses are similar, but also have differences. They have completely different expectations. However, studying habits will be the same and helps students through the course. 

“It was similar in that we worked on Canvas primarily. That was pretty much the only thing that was the same, everything else was different. You would have your modules and she would assign certain things to you. Then, I had to go and find all the books on my own time because we read four or five different books. I had to get those on my own. Then, studying wise, it was pretty much the same. I still used my regular studying habits so it wasn’t that different,” Healy said. 

Another big difference for Alexiou was the lack of built in class time to get the work done. 

“At an HHS class, you have class time and then they give you the homework. With VVA, some of my teachers laid out everything for the entire year, all the notes and all the assignments at once. I can see everything that I have to do throughout the entire year, which is kind of nice because I can know what’s coming ahead rather than just going to an HHS class and figuring out if I have homework. Also, of course, the content, having an actual teacher teach me is really appreciative,” Alexiou said. 

Getting in touch with your teacher has also changed. With being online, students don’t have that live time to ask questions so email is usually the best way to get questions answered. 

“At the beginning of the school year we were doing an essay and I wanted to meet with [my teacher] one-on-one to discuss my grade. We were able to do that over Zoom. Other times, if I had a question about an assignment, I just emailed her,” Healy said. 

Asking questions is different with VVA because of not having class time, Healy used email to get in touch with her teacher. 

“The biggest challenge can just be communication with your teacher, you don’t have that time in class to ask a question. If you don’t understand an assignment or where to find an assignment, you just don’t have that built in time. My last teacher was great because she would respond to emails within 10 minutes. A lot of the teachers aren’t like that though,” Healy said. 

Virtual Virginia classes are mostly covered by HHS; however, there is still a fee students must pay.

“I think the biggest difference is I don’t have to pay for the individual class, but I have to pay for the AP exam at the end of the year, which is usually what HHS covers, they normally reduce the cost. Other than that, I don’t have many costs at all. The textbooks and class fees are covered by HHS. [The additional cost] is not a lot, but it is more than HHS is,” Alexiou said. 

Some students have said that the workload is basically the same that they are used to, others have expressed that it was much more and a higher difficulty level as well. 

“For one of my classes, it’s more work, but it’s definitely harder because you don’t get the same support that you do at HHS and also you don’t have that class time to work on your homework. At HHS and Governor’s school, your teacher will give you class time to discuss and work on homework. You don’t really have that through Virtual Virginia. So, not only do you have to do the homework, but you also have to teach yourself the content, which is difficult,” Alexiou said. 

Healy finds the workload very similar to her regular HHS classes. 

“It was about the same as my other AP classes. There was like one week where we had to read 700 pages in one week and it was pretty bad. That was definitely the worst week. [Overall], it was pretty much the same as other AP classes. So, it was about two hours of homework each night for class,” Healy said. 

Being in such a different learning environment may be stressful, especially when you don’t know anyone else in the class. Both Healy and Alexiou have had at least one other student that they know in their classes and have expressed feeling more comfortable seeing a familiar name. 

“[Senior] Ryan Secrist was in my class, but he was in another cohort or another block. We never got to work together, but it was nice because I would see his response on discussion boards and I’d be like, ‘I know him.’ It’s not just a ton of kids that I have no idea who they are,” Healy said. 

Alexiou has more familiar faces in her classes. 

“There are no [other HHS students] in my AP comparative government classes, but there are several in my AP US Government class. I know [seniors] Aidan Perkins, Hayden Kirwan, Betsy Quimby and Nathan Henderson, which is kind of nice. It’s nice to have friends. It makes it feel like a real class rather than going on my discussion board and seeing names that I’ve never heard of before in my entire life. It definitely helps having friends,” Alexiou said. 

Adjusting to taking classes completely online has affected everyone differently. Some students are struggling to get their homework done, others are always on top of it. 

“I’m just like, ‘do it’, I guess. I just go to class and try to take it seriously. It’s really, really hard for me to take classes seriously; not only with the senioritis, but also just the fact that it doesn’t feel like school. I’ve tried to tell myself that this is a real school year and that I really need to take this seriously and I actually have to do some work. The biggest thing to adjust, I would say, is learning how to motivate myself without any external motivators,” Alexiou said. 

For Healy, her home life can create distractions during the school day. 

“The biggest adjustment has just been being in my house, both my parents are teachers and so it’s been a struggle to find a room in the house where I’m able to focus and not be distracted by both of them teaching at the same time. Then, just hoping our WiFi holds up, that’s always a struggle,” Healy said. 

Students have had different experiences on learning how to retain content from all online curriculums. For some students, it has been easier because they can do it at their own pace, for others it hasn’t been as simple. 

“I would say it depends on my interest level. For AP macroeconomics, I wasn’t really that interested in economics. It’s not something that really keeps me up at night. So, I didn’t learn a lot there. [However], with my government classes, I am actually learning a lot because it’s easier to keep myself engaged when I like the content and I like what I’m learning,” Alexiou said. 

Healy has actually found it easy to retain content online if she makes sure to use the time to her advantage. 

“I feel like it’s in some ways easier because we have that extra two hour chunk from 1:00 to 3:00 that I can use to work on things. That’s the time that I really use to focus on schoolwork and then I might take a little break and come back. I think it’s easy to retain the information because you’re still in class taking notes. As long as you’re able to focus, it’s not that bad,” Healy said. 

The most challenging part of VVA classes for Alexiou was having to teach herself content, especially when she didn’t enjoy it. 

“Teaching yourself content that you don’t enjoy has been really, really hard for me. It’s easier to teach yourself content when you’re in a class and the teacher is right in front of you. Even if you don’t like the class, it’s so much easier to know and remember the content because someone is directly teaching you. However, when you just don’t like the content and you have to teach yourself, it’s like doing a chore you don’t want to do, no one get’s up and is like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to do laundry,’ it’s very similar to that. So that’s been my biggest challenge, learning how to push through and motivate myself rather than just for the love of learning,” Alexiou said. 

Retaining and understanding the content isn’t the only difficulty, technology and connection issues has caused new stress for students. 

“The biggest issue with VVA in my opinion, across the board, is that the site is down a lot. It’s happened like four or five times to me where I just can’t get into the site to even see my work so that’s a struggle,” Healy said. 

Alexiou has had more struggles with her WiFi than the website. 

“My WiFi isn’t necessarily the greatest so online classes are really, really [difficult]. [Especially] video instruction just because it gets so laggy and then my computer overheats and that’s really stressful because I don’t want my computer to die on me. Sometimes my computer shuts off randomly and I have to restart an entire assignment. That happened last night and I cried really, really hard. I worked hours [on that assignment]; it was really bad,” Alexiou said

However, learning how to do so much online is a good skill to have. Some students may even like it more, not having so many papers and worksheets to keep track of.  

“It’s kind of nice. We’re learning how to do everything virtually and there isn’t pen and paper worksheets. It’s nice to see our teachers adjust,” Alexiou said. 

Both Alexiou and Healy have taken several VVA classes, they have almost mastered what works best for them to stay on top of assignments. They each shared some advice for other students considering taking a class through VVA. 

“Write out all of your assignments on a separate to do list, it can get kind of overwhelming, but what I like to do is go through the modules and write down a to do list, like when everything is due so that I can visually see everything, rather than just guessing. Just try and pace yourself based on that,” Alexiou said. 

For Healy, being self motivated has been the biggest key to getting through VVA classes. 

“I would say that if you are somebody that’s self motivated and you like to work at your own pace, it can be a really, really nice way to do it. You can find the block in the day to do it on your own schedule. However, if you’re somebody that wants a little more structure to your class, or you maybe need a little more encouragement, maybe it’s not for you, but definitely worth a try,” Healy said. 

Virtual Virginia offers many different classes that HHS does not. Alexiou encourages students to look through what they offer and take a class that interests you. 

“I would actually encourage people to look through what Virtual Virginia offers. There’s a bunch of AP classes that people haven’t heard of before. VVA offers a lot more than what HHS can offer. It does cost extra because HHS doesn’t cover it, but it’s still a tangible thing that you can do. So, I encourage everyone to look through the offerings and see if there’s a class that really interests them,” Alexiou said.

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