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Episode 3 The Hybrid Classroom

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]As students begin to return to school this year, many parents and students still have questions about whether it will be in a virtual classroom, hybrid classroom, or in person. Families have been significantly impacted by the pandemic since early 2020. Since that time COVID-19 has continuously changed the way teachers and students handle challenges in teaching and learning across various platforms. By the end of September 2021, many Texas schools who opened up with in person learning opportunities quickly found that a spike in the transmission of coronavirus meant they could be switching gears again only weeks into the fall semester. Because younger children aged eleven or younger were not yet eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations and were concerned about being in person, many schools hastily opened virtual academies for this particular demographic. This too brought challenges in making the system work and securing the staff to man the program. As the pandemic began, school districts, teachers, and students were all asked to “pivot” and change the way they approached learning as Americans stayed at home. Now, as a new school year begins in 2021, the word of this school year seems to be flexible, as schools navigate the hybrid classroom model with increasing frequency. With the world of education largely incorporating hybrid classroom models this year, we thought it would be helpful to talk to schools to see what has worked and what has not since the pandemic forced changes in the way teachers educate and students learn. Our hope is that the lessons learned by a private San Antonio school can help others as they look to the rest of the school year and beyond.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

How COVID Forced a Hybrid Classroom

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width="1/2"][vc_column_text]Most schools in Texas started the March break of 2020 with one eye on the coronavirus situation, but never expecting it would impact them the way it did. Many in the education industry refer to that as the year spring break never ended because most students never returned to the classroom before the school year concluded. However, in the interim between March and the last day of school, educators felt compelled to do something to facilitate some level of education and routine for children. A private school in San Antonio pulled together a team of professionals to find a way to take education virtual. This was a challenge for them for several reasons:
  1. At this time in educational history, cameras were not a normal part of the classroom model.
  2. Educators did not have experience with cameras and preferred not to use them unless necessary.
  3. Some subjects such as coding or science labs were near impossible to teach virtually because it required years of planning, and in this instance, they had none.
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Meeting the Need for Professional Development in Technology

[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width="1/4"][vc_single_image image="4212" img_size="300x300"][vc_single_image image="4213" img_size="300x300"][vc_single_image image="4214" img_size="300x300"][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width="3/4"][vc_column_text]As virtual learning became the status quo during the spring semester of 2020, the main obstacle became getting educators comfortable with new hardware, software, and platforms. Specifically, the school did the following:
  • Got teachers comfortable with various learning platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams. For roughly three full days, teachers did professional development training to better understand how to handle issues such as logging into a Zoom session or teaching over a voice line instead of in the classroom.
  • Change the hardware. Essentially teachers’ laptops became their classroom, but the school found that most of the laptops the teachers had were subpar for accommodating virtual learning, primarily because the machines’ cameras and microphones were lacking. Although the school quickly placed orders for new Microsoft Surface machines, it would take time to get them. In the meantime, educators did they best they could to find webcam deals and minimize background noise that often occurred when communicating through the laptop.
  • Obtain the right software. With professional development and new hardware also came the need to obtain software that would enhance virtual and eventually hybrid classrooms.
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The Fall Semester of 2021 and the Introduction of the Hybrid Classroom

When the next school year began, the school had finally received the new laptops, which made a positive impact because educators found them to be faster, more robust, and have better camera capabilities. However, those camera capabilities were limited to the laptops themselves. With this in mind, the school began to look at camera solutions that would offer hybrid classroom capabilities for virtual and in person students.  In other words, how do you show the same content to two people in two different places?  The camera’s role was essential because it allowed teachers to be seen and heard effectively for various classroom scenarios. In the end, the school found a relatively inexpensive camera that teachers could operate and even connect to their existing interactive boards to use for screen sharing for both virtual and in person students.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

The Learning Curve for the Hybrid Classroom

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width="2/3"][vc_column_text]The school found an unexpected downside to the way they were using cameras in the hybrid classroom. On average, they found that when the camera allowed virtual students and in-person students to see each other, distractions became an issue. In response, the school took those cameras out of the classroom and instead decided to try a different tactic. The new goal for camera usage was to have remote students only interact with the teacher as opposed to the teacher and the in-person students. From that point forward remote students interacted with the teacher on the laptop only and could still hear what was happening in the classroom without having a visual of the other students. In person students could also hear the remote students, but not see them.  The new arrangement significantly cut down on camera-related distractions. Another challenge of the hybrid classroom became controlling the classroom. When in an in person setting, the teacher is better able to control distractions and moderate conversation. In a virtual setting, some of that control is relinquished. For example, the school found that some virtual learning students would take a screenshot of themselves on the learning platform and then post it so that the teacher would think they were still present when in reality they left the room to go eat lunch or play video games. Unfortunately, there were a number of ways for students learning remotely to defeat the system that simply weren’t part of an in-person classroom environment. Bandwidth also became an issue due to the sheer number of teachers and students making connections. The number of connections for one classroom was far more than what the school would have seen during a typical school year, and when that number was multiplied by sixty teachers and five hundred kids, it overloaded the system at times. It required some improvement to be truly effective. These are some of the challenges schools faced for the hybrid classroom with remote and hybrid learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, but with the bad comes the good. Even challenges have a silver lining, and working with an experienced AV integrator ensures the ideal solution will be found.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/3"][vc_empty_space height="50px"][vc_single_image image="4217" img_size="full"][/vc_column][/vc_row]