In-person teaching is what generations of educators have learned about in college, practiced during student teaching and then perfected over their many years in the classroom. Sharing passion for their subject materials, using available tools, and being face-to-face with students is how education for youngsters, preteens and young adults was meant to be delivered and assessed.
That longstanding method changed when the pandemic forced school districts across the county to close their buildings. Thousands of teachers promptly became Zoom stars, providing content, concepts and security to their students through interconnected displays, and doing all they could to make it all seem “normal.” Remote learning became America’s educational delivery system. The 2019-20 school ended with final exams taken and goodbyes shared through thousands of laptops in living rooms across our country.
Aware of the significant impact that in-person teaching has in their students’ success, social development and mental health, school leaders have made tremendous efforts to find a COVID-19 safe way to be back in their buildings. Given the summer to plan, purchase and re-arrange, many schools started the 2020-21 school year intending on providing their students with as much classroom time as possible. With social distancing the norm, few were able to have all students on campus at the same time, which led to yet another educational model – hybrid.
With one-half of the students in the classroom and the other half connected from home, the hope was that students would be able to receive their lessons at a regular pace. And by changing which half learns from where between weeks (or every couple of days), schools can provide consistent content and some on-campus group learning to everyone. However, the process is not the same for the teacher, nor is the experience the same for the student. Overcoming those challenges so that the content is successfully shared and retained requires some modifications.
As with so many aspects of our lives in 2020, successfully combining in-person classroom teaching with remote learning requires some technology. Bringing the atmosphere, collaboration and energy of the total classroom to the remote learners requires more than just the single Zoom image of the white board from the teacher’s laptop and the shared screens of PowerPoint presentations. That view is important, but the teacher becomes desk-bound and less able to draw learning and teaching from the students who are present.
Adding a second or third image to the remote learner’s gallery can be as simple as having a smartphone, tablet or second laptop join the same Zoom session and use that to display the entire classroom. Or adding a webcam and microphone to the back of the room can give the student at home a better sense of the learning that is occurring and how their classmates are contributing to that effort. Even having one, two or three of the classroom students use their own devices to connect will expand the remote learner’s connection.
The mobility of smaller devices can provide the remote learner a better understanding of what is being taught. Taking the smartphone or tablet and positioning it so that its camera captures a science lab demonstration or a presentation by an individual student, or allows the remote learner to be a part of a small group collaboration will provide more of the contact those in the classroom receive.
If the teacher is moving about the room and engaging with students in a round-robin format, having the smaller device carried (or hung on a lanyard) connects the remote learners with that engagement. And this works if the class moves to another location for a portion of the class, such as outdoors for photography, the hallway for a physics project or the music room for an activity around the piano. Classroom education rarely happens solely at the front of the room, so look for ways to share the whole room and all of the participants through the platform being used.
Conversely, bringing the remote students into the room requires a bit of technology and some planning. Adding a second display to the teacher’s primary connection allows the teacher to display the sharing platform with everyone present. The monitor can be directed toward the students in the class, and the primary monitor used for the teacher’s content (outlines, diagrams, Power- Points, etc.). Using Speaker View on the second display will provide a fuller image of the remote student making a comment, statement or answering a question so that everyone can see. Also, computer speakers will enable everyone to hear what others are offering. Adding a second display does not prevent the teacher’s laptop from being connected to a projector as you can either connect two devices to the primary one (through two ports or a splitter) or sequence the second display in-line with the projector.
Asking individual students to connect their devices (which they all have) with a remote student can also be used to bring those remote learners into the room and into the discussion. And for classes that have small group discussions or collaborations (such as projects, yearbook pages, etc.), having students in a group work through their technology with a remote partner allows everyone to contribute as well as learn. Again, the more ways remote learners are connected, the better the education is for everyone.
Adding a second device to your Zoom session significantly enlarges the teacher’s reach, the connection the students have with the teacher and with each other and supports the spread and retention of the content. Bringing the remote learners’ faces and voices into the classroom allows them to be active participants instead of observers. And the more students there are engaging, contributing and reflecting, the better the learning for everyone.
Steffen Parker has worked with computers since the mid-70s and has been a Macintosh user since its introduction in 1984. Serving as an IT support person for the Vermont Principals’ Association and the Information Support Specialist for Vermont’s Lamoille North Supervisory Union, Parker supports computer use for adults working in education, administration, finance and publication including the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee where he also serves as the Performing Arts representative.