It all began on the 16th of March, 2020.

A global pandemic was declared due to the bewildering spread of Coronavirus. As the smart thing to do, Cobb County Schools in Georgia announced for the school to be closed. At the height of the pandemic, 45 countries in the Europe and Central Asia region shut down their schools, and this affected about 185 million students.

The pandemic altered most of our lives and set the pace for a change. Virtual learning became a thing, and this transitioned a lot of things in the educational system. Teachers and administrators had no choice but to create remote learning systems. And being outside the four walls of a classroom brought forth a different learning experience.

2020 was the year Ashleigh Ewald was finishing her junior year, and it coincided with the closure of many schools. Like many others, staying connected to the school’s community was almost impossible, and this was how she got the inspiration to start her podcast— “100% Real With Ashleigh Ewald,”  to allow listeners to connect with the unique experience of students, teachers and people alike.

The Challenges

Numerous challenges come with remote learning. For one, there’s the issue of distraction. It’s easy to get distracted when you’re all by yourself as opposed to being in a learning environment where you’re surrounded by your classmates, and with a common goal— to learn. 

Distractions are an unavoidable aspect of remote learning. For example, someone knocking heavily on the front door, or a dog running around and barking could be distracting for anyone in such an environment. Imagine being in the middle of a virtual classroom session and having all those distractions around you. 

As a result of these distractions, and additional home chores or responsibilities, time management becomes one hell of a big deal. It just feels like time keeps drifting out of your control. Sadly, time management is perhaps the most difficult challenge for students to overcome because it completely depends on self-motivation. Students have to make conscious efforts to learn how to manage time, set their daily schedules, and learn to study regardless of the distractions that come their way.

Another challenge is the issue of unstable internet connection, and this is a major problem especially in developing countries. There have been times when students have to struggle with their internet connection, and this directly leads to a lack of engagement and loss of motivation to learn.

Also, lack of motivation is a primary challenge as well. Since you’re all alone at home, it’s very easy to slip into depression and not be enthusiastic about the learning process. For one, you may not be able to hang out with your friends during lunch break or read together. As small as this may seem, it goes a long way in retaining motivation and increasing enthusiasm for learning. 

Overcoming the Challenges

Photo credit: Ashleigh Ewald, with permission

A factor that adversely affects the learning environment can make students feel that their efforts are not worth it.  When creating the podcast, Ashleigh was a high school senior and did not want minors and other students not interested in getting involved. Rather, she wanted them to remain persistent, not be afraid of the unknown, and never give up. 

To an extent, the topics in the podcast assist with coping through it all, by providing listeners with insight into students’ daily lives and teachers’ efforts to push through difficult times. Ashleigh believes no one should go through the pandemic alone, and if one person gains more self-confidence after listening, then she feels she has been able to help in her own little way.

Topics in the podcast include; 

  • How to manage time better
  • Keeping students engaged
  • How to overcome disappointments and hardships
  • How to become an active learner
  • Taking charge of your future
  • How to balance the school life

Although many students are still struggling with low motivation to learn, procrastination, feeling isolated and inactive, they’ve been encouraged to be creative, develop good health habits, practice perseverance, and stay focused on their dreams.

Concluding Thoughts

The podcast is aimed at keeping the relationship between students and teachers intact. With this, students volunteer to talk about their struggles, routines and also connect with those going through a similar situation. 

In a fair number of our interviews, the guests make mention of being overwhelmed by academics and national events. The students also spoke about remaining hopeful, overcoming distractions, procrastination, comparisons, and isolation, while staying connected and getting involved within the community.

We must stay together and continue to share our stories, and this is one of the reasons for creating this podcast, to do our part to shape a better future. Everyone’s story matters and everyone has unique perspectives that can have an impact on those listening. 

By highlighting the genuine and inspiring journeys of various individuals, Ashleigh hopes to inspire many.