[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]With the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, schools were forced to pivot almost overnight to adapt to virtual and hybrid learning. However, the technology lessons learned during this formative time are now helping schools adapt to hybrid education going forward to the 2021-2022 year and beyond. What might not have originally been on a district’s radar for three years down the road is now something they are trying to proactively plan for as far as five to ten years in the future, and they will be better for it.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]
Strategies Used for Starting the 2021-2022 School Year[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_column_text]With the pandemic still surging in parts of the United States, the beginning of the new school year was initially met with a degree of trepidation. Educators were wondering what would happen if a surge occurred in their area and how it would affect their teaching and students’ learning experiences. Most Texas schools opted to either go in person or virtual with not much, if any, in between. This provided some level of confidence because going all virtual or all in person generally presented far less technological challenges than dealing with a hybrid classroom on such short notice. Some of the benefits of this all or nothing strategy include:
- Teachers will not have to alter the classroom environment to switch between virtual and in person. In hybrid environments, it is sometimes necessary to shift around equipment to make the classroom setup feasible for cameras.
- Educators can teach from home or the classroom without too much difficulty, which provides more continuity.
- No subsets of students will be absent from class on a regular basis. They are there every day or are one hundred percent virtual, which eliminates the need for teachers to keep up with which way a student is choosing to learn on a given week or month.
Pandemic Technology Challenges are Shaping the Future Classroom[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_column_text]While technology has always been evolving inside the classroom, the pandemic forced that to happen at a much faster rate than most school districts were prepared for. The pivots they had to make almost overnight are not a process they want to repeat, so the goal then became using pandemic technology challenges to shape the classroom five to ten years into the future. In a perfect world where there is plenty of time to adapt and build technology for a teaching program that works for in-person, hybrid, and virtual classrooms, many schools and IT directors said they would hope to incorporate the following:
- Have every classroom be identical. This can be essential for both teachers and students that float from classroom to classroom and should also cut down on unique challenges for incorporating virtual students into the setting. Regardless of their learning location, students would essentially be having the same experience no matter which classroom their teacher would be teaching in.
- Use strategic camera placement. Having two cameras in every classroom would be ideal, one that focuses on the classroom environment and one that focuses on the instructor.
- Utilize speakers. The speakers would be able to play media in person and remotely. This would allow a teacher who created a lesson on her laptop to play it online and in the classroom at the same time by simply docking the laptop and greenlighting the program.
- Install microphones. Mics should be able to pick up the instructor first and foremost, but also pick up students’ questions to the instructor. In addition, it would be key for remote students to be heard in the classroom with the mic system.
- Put a virtual student display at the back of the classroom. If a monitor or video wall could be set up in the back of the classroom behind students, it would allow for virtual students to be seen by the teacher but not as easily by their classmates which can cut down on distractions.
The Quest for Educators to Become More Comfortable with Technology[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]When the pandemic hit, some teachers were scrambling to learn the technology they would need to implement virtual learning. Almost two years later, many of these same individuals have mastered the required technology, but moving forward the landscape is likely to change again necessitating teachers to adapt to even newer systems and ideas. Pandemic or not, as a whole most Texas schools say professional development on the subject of technology should be required annually. The two main filters a school can benefit from using when it comes to choosing what types of technology to adopt into their classrooms are:
- Is it transparent for the teacher so they can use it without interrupting their teaching style?
- Is it transparent for the student so they can use it the same way the teacher does, but without it altering the information they receive?
Pandemic Lessons Learned by Schools That Will Now Be Used Annually Regardless of Pandemic Status[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]Although some lessons were necessitated by the pandemic itself, they have yielded concepts that schools now expect to apply annually, regardless of if there is a pandemic present or not. Some of these generally include:
- Being multimedia friendly. Many classrooms have become multimedia classrooms and will continue to move forward in that same fashion for years to come.
- Utilizing the cloud. Schools that put their student information system one hundred percent in the cloud usually find it to be more accessible to students. Platforms such as Zoom, Google, or Teams can be used to communicate.
- Offering classroom tools via the cloud. Schools are becoming more committed in finding the right tools that are widely available and making them cloud available. One example could be using a YouTube video to pause periodically and quiz students on the information they are learning.
- Getting creative with solutions. The pandemic taught schools to be creative and expand their resources. For example, during the pandemic one public school district turned itself into a Wi-Fi hotspot so that students anywhere within the district could access the network. This type of creativity is likely to be needed on perhaps an even different scale going forward, but most schools will already have some experience in thinking outside of the proverbial box.