Discipline is key to e-learning success

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
The Stiles sisters — Jasper High School sophomore Mya, 16, left, Johnson University freshman Megan, and Jasper Middle School eighth-grader Macey, 14, — sit outside with their digital devices for e-learning for a portrait at their home in Jasper on Wednesday. Mya said she enjoys the ability to go at her own pace while completing assignments at home. "Certain subjects come more naturally than others," Mya said. One challenge she faces is not being able to see her peers and teachers from school. "I'm extroverted, so I miss interactions with people," she said.


JASPER — The Stiles home in Jasper has become a family-centered hub of e-learning since schools and universities across the country closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When Johnson University in Tennessee closed, college freshman Megan Stiles moved back home a few months earlier than planned to complete her second semester online. Her two younger sisters, Jasper High School sophomore Mya and Jasper Middle School eighth grader Macey, are also home doing e-learning.

“It’s been a little different,” Megan said.

Mya and Macey agreed.

Learning at home means the girls have to be much more independent than they are at school. Without the structure of a regular school day, it’s on them to make sure they log on, watch their lessons and complete their assignments. It also means a lot of self-teaching.

“So far they’ve been really independent,” said Brandi, their mom. “We’re feel really fortunate this is happening now when they’re at the ages they are.”

Brandi is the nurse at Ireland Elementary, and her husband, Ryan, is a campus minister at Redemption Christian Church. Both are working from home alongside their daughters.

Jasper High School sophomore Mya Stiles, 16, does e-learning in her home in Jasper on Wednesday.

Brandi and Ryan leave it up to their daughters to get the work done and to structure their days. For Macey, that means getting up by 8 a.m. to work out before she starts her lessons. Sometimes, the lessons take her a while, and she likes to break them up with little workouts or meals, so she tries to get an early start. Mya and Megan, not so much. They tend to get up between 9:30 and 10 a.m. Then, Megan just follows the same class schedule she had back on campus and works on assignments between Zoom video conferencing classes. Mya makes sure she starts her assignments by 10:30 a.m. and works on them in one big block to minimize distractions and procrastination, which she says she holds a master’s degree in.

The sisters agreed that while the independence of e-learning can be nice, it took an adjustment and comes with its own challenges.

It’s been a struggle for Macey, who said she’s usually dependent on being able to get real-time help from her teachers to make sure she understands a lesson or to help her find errors. Although she can email them and get help, she said it’s not the same. They can’t walk her through her work via email the way they can in class.

“Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m doing it right,” Macey said.

For Mya, independent learning has come pretty easily. She likes school and is excited about learning, so she said she tends to excel. But two classes have proven challenging to learn online: Algebra II, and anatomy and physiology.

Her algebra II lessons are being taught primarily through YouTube videos, and it’s not the same teacher in each video. It’s been tough to get used to a different teaching style for each lesson. She also misses the tips and tricks her teacher threw into the lessons when they were at JHS. She and her classmates have relied on a group text chain to support and help each other.

Johnson University freshman Megan Stiles, left, and her sister, eighth-grader Macey, do schoolwork at their table at home in Jasper on Wednesday.

As for anatomy and physiology, all the hands-on activities are gone. There are videos and other activities that replace them, Mya said, but it’s not the same. She worries that she won’t be getting the same quality education in the content that she would if classes were in person. That’s a big deal since she intends to pursue a career in nursing.

“That anatomy is going to extend over my entire college career, so I’m trying to find ways to get that information and keep it [in my memory],” she said.

For Megan, the interaction with her professors that she’d become accustomed to on Johnson’s tight-knit campus is lacking now. She said her professors do their best to keep in touch with their students and keep the relationships going — one professor hosted a social Zoom call earlier this week — but it doesn’t replace the ability to just stop by office hours for face-to-face support.

Megan also misses the new friends she made during her first semester at Johnson. She and her dorm-mates used to gather in their common room to do homework together and socialize. Now, she only has text messaging and FaceTime to keep those budding friendships alive.

Mya and Macey agreed that losing the social interaction with their friends is the worst part of e-learning and social distancing. It’s frustrating not to be able to go see their friends after they finish their lessons due to the stay-at-home order. The restriction has Macey missing everyone, even her classmates outside her friend group.
But the sisters find ways to fill their spare time and get some laughs. Mya and Macey have made a habit of hiding around corners to jump out and scare Megan.

“That’s been hilarious,” Mya said.

They’re also spending time on personal projects that they don’t have time for when school is in session due to extracurricular activities and jobs.

“I’ve been able to pick up my guitar more, so that’s been nice,” Mya said.

And they get their social fix as a family, taking walks, going on hikes, playing board games and doing Bible studies.

“It’s been a blessing to have this time together,” Ryan said. “We’re finding peace and joy together in the midst of this crisis.”

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