Teacher finds anonymity promotes honesty in online classrooms

Kent County

Posted: Dec 17, 2019 / 05:36 AM EST Updated: Dec 17, 2019 / 05:36 AM EST

ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — Stacey Harrison lives in Rockford and taught in a traditional, brick-and-mortar classroom in middle and high schools for more than ten years.

Now, she works from home in a virtual classroom. She is a teacher for Highpoint Virtual Academy of Michigan with more than 200 students across the state.

This year, Harrison sent out a questionnaire to her students to get to know them better and was surprised by the responses.

“I was just overwhelmed with the honesty that the kids put forth. In brick and mortar, a lot of kids are close to the vest with personal stuff, but here there is a sense of anonymity when you’re working in the virtual world that gives the kids a little bit more bravery, I suppose, to be more vulnerable with those things,” she explained.

In addition to answering questions about their favorite color or book, the students shared about serious, personal matters. One student revealed she had been molested, another discussed her challenges in the foster care system and her hopes to be adopted before she turns 18.

“Those types of things, I don’t think that I would have been privy to in a brick and mortar classroom,” Harrison said.

She invited News 8 to join her virtual classroom and set up a conversation with one of the online students at HVAM — a 7th grader named James Pierce.

He and his mom discussed his experience as a virtual student, sharing that he had experienced bullying in his traditional classroom. Pierce said he feels safer both physically and emotionally in the online setting.

“He says the teachers don’t play favorites,” his mom explained. She added that he can stay in his pajamas and go on family vacations without missing school, which is better for him in the long run.

The students all get microphones with laptops and webcams, although they typically don’t use the cameras. They’re all in the classroom at the same time, participating in large and small group discussions or breakout rooms.

“Essentially, it’s like having five different tables in a classroom and saying OK, you work on this section and you guys work on this section then we will all meet together. I can pop from room to room as if I were moving from table to table,” said Harrison.

Like Pierce, Harrison said a lot of students turn to virtual learning because of bullying or their anxiety levels, along with other reasons. She believes the online classroom creates a safe, welcoming space and unique opportunity to help.

“The more I know about kids, the more I can engage with my students. As a teacher, the more I know about their back history helps me to be a better teacher to make lessons more personalized to that student.”

HVAM is one of several public, online schools in Michigan. You can learn more about it and the courses offered on their website.