Rural students and teachers try to find a way to make virtual learning work

Published: Nov. 28, 2020 at 12:53 AM EST
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PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - Jacob Gutberlet is a busy kid. He’s an athlete as well as a 4.0 student but that has all been put to the test with virtual learning.

Although Jacob is a high-schooler, he is currently taking five classes at Washington State Community College.

Only one class was originally scheduled to be online but now all five are at least partially virtual due to Covid.

This poses unique issues for a student living in a rural community with slow internet.

His mother Dawn said Zoom is practically impossible at their house.

Jacob said there were even chunks of lectures he missed due to Zoom quality.

“Most of the time there wasn’t really much of a delay. My voice just wouldn’t come through plainly to them and then, when they responded to me, I couldn’t really hear what they were saying either and the video would be paused like for a minute or so it would be paused, then it would finally catch up,” he said.

These issues, however, didn’t last long.

After only a couple tries at his house, it was obvious that virtual school from home wasn’t feasible.

In fact, Jacob said their slow internet added an extra two hours to his academic workload.

This lead him to drive an hour to his grandparents for faster WiFi.

With Covid, however, this lead to its own complications.

Jacob said, “And I would sit in the driveway for about a month. I did that, and I would do my work, the Zooms, I would meet with my teachers and my other classmates on a laptop out in their driveway and at one point my battery would get low and they had to run an extension chord out to me.”

Jacob eventually transitioned into working in his grandparents’ house.

His mom, Dawn Gutberlet, said he lives there on school nights due to logistics.

“They actually fixed a room up for him...turned the den into a bedroom, with his television, his laptop, and everything so he has a room at their house now that he’s staying there most of the time,” she said.

Students aren’t the only ones trying to make virtual learning work.

Jaime Moss, Parkersburg South’s tech contact and science teacher, says, when virtual learning first started, she was putting in an extra two to three hours a day. Even now, she puts in an extra four hours each week.

Although Moss said hot spots have been a big help in addressing internet access issues, not all areas can use them.

The Gutberlets live in one such area.

Jacob’s mom said, “It’s internet, satellite internet, and that’s all that is available where we live. We have no cell service available so that is not an option to do. You know, a lot of people can do hot spots and we can’t do that.”

Washington State Community College has also put in effort to help out students with internet issues through extended WiFi access points among other measures.

However, Vice President of Institutional Advancement Amanda Herb said, although the college holds in-person classes now, when it was all virtual, some students didn’t have the resources to make it work.

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