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Zoom Inside A Virtual Dallas High School History Class

Mark Harrington on a computer screen during his Zoom class
Bill Zeeble
Mark Harrington teaches history at Dallas ISD's Seagoville High Shool. These days, he connects with students (and reporters), from home using Zoom

By now, most North Texas students have been learning from home for a month — some even longer. Nearly two dozen 11th graders log-in to Mark Harrington’s AP history class each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. They mostly have the routine down — mostly.  


“Johnny, why were you taking up the whole screen?” asks instructor Mark Harrington, through the Zoom connection.

“I do not know,” answers student Johnny Trevino.

Harrington knows his students are familiar with online learning, because he’s used it for years. What’s new, to them and the rest of the world, is how things like Zoom meetings have replaced almost all in- person interaction.

Harrington didn’t want his students to completely lose that classroom feel. These kids say he’s one of their only teachers still meeting this way — at set times on the same days —  as if they were still sitting together at Seagoville High.

“This is the only time we get to video-call our teachers,” Trevino said. “So this is the only time we can actually get our questions answered. If you were in class, if you had questions, you could ask the teacher after class.”

That said, most of these Seagoville students said they also enjoy remote learning at their own pace.

“I really like online better than school,” student Victor Guzman said. “Because you do the work whenever you want, like whatever time you want. At school you’ve got to be there early, and I really do like waking up, like, late.”

Still, Guzman said he has been waking up in time for Mark Harrington’s AP history at 10 a.m. Students access the class through the education app Edmodo. Kids say most of their other teachers use Google Classroom. The apps are similar, allowing students to click on assignments, complete, then turn them in securely. However, Seagoville student Nyja Rhodes worries that learning long-distance may compromise her education.

“At times it’s more like I’m just looking up stuff and I’m not soaking-in what I’m doing,” Rhodes said. “At school, we can’t be on our phones so we really have to actually take it in and learn.”

Personal preferences aside, learning does happen online, according to Southern Methodist University’s Jennifer Culver. She’s the technology services director at the SMU Education school.  

“There are a lot of ways for students to take in content and a lot of ways for students to represent and provide evidence of learning that wouldn’t require constant on-time, real-time interaction with teachers,” Culver said.

But since this shut-down and shift to home all happened so fast, UT- Arlington professor Peggy Semingson said finding the best way to learn long-distance is still a work in progress. She's been teaching online for a dozen years.

"A lot of people had to hit the ground running and so they were building the airplane as you’re flying it so to speak,” Semingson said. "I think with the summer and maybe the fall, depending on where we’re heading, people are going to be able to feel more confident with their online teaching and try new things and even be innovative.”

Innovative or not, many students' lives aren’t conducive to learning from home. Edward Zapata said this hasn’t been easy for him.  

“It’s painful,” Zapata said. “I have two nephews at home and always have to go watch them and also do homework.”

Other students have no home at all, as Nyja Rhodes learned recently.

"My perspective changed when me and my mom, we saw one of the students that goes to our school and he’s homeless.” Rhodes said. “We gave him our food and money, but it changed my perspective for people who actually need to be at school because they don’t have anywhere else to be."

Teacher Mark Harrington said district officials know about the student and have reached out to his family.

Student Miranda Serrano sums up her Seagoville classmates’ take on this emergency education. 

“I like this class, I like the challenge,” Serrano said. “I don’t like the challenge of halfway through the year going through a pandemic.”

Neither does instructor Harrington, but it’s giving him a whole new outlook on teaching history.

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Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.