Hi Rachel, firstly, thanks for taking time out to share your experience with hybrid teaching. Prior to 2020, had you ever taught in a hybrid setup?
No, hybrid teaching was completely new to me; never once had I even attended a virtual meeting much less taught classes that way. We teachers found ourselves building the plane while we were flying it – what a shakeup to our jobs!
Do you see the hybrid teaching model as something that will remain post-pandemic?
April of 2020 was a watershed moment in education; how we teach is forever changed, much of it is actually for the better. Teachers have always been frustrated by absences, as they make fluid instruction increasingly challenging. Even before the pandemic, chronic absenteeism was rampant. In the 2015-16 school year, the US Department of Education reported that over 30% of students missed at least three weeks of school, creating a major obstacle to their educational success. COVID-related issues have caused that number to skyrocket.
The hybrid model of education has been a boon to educators dealing with student absences. Allowing students to stay connected when they can’t attend in person is a long-overdue solution, and even when the pandemic ends, I foresee digital classrooms sticking around. We need them! There will always be situations that pull kids from school, and now we have the means to alleviate the stress those absences cause students (and parents and teachers). As most businesses are modifying their workplace models to allow employees to work from home as needed, so must schools allow flexibility for the health and safety of their students.
Aside from the tools we’ve gained to handle absences, the pandemic forces us to join the digital environment where our students (and most of the rest of the world) lives. While there will always be a place for pen, paper, and hold-it-in-your-hand books, the paperless movement is well underway, and the shutdown of in-person learning helped schools get on board. Today’s young people are passionate about the environment, so moving to tech-based delivery is meeting them right where they are.
What were the challenges you had to overcome?
Letting go of “this is how I’ve always done it” was so difficult for me at the start of the forced distance-learning; my traditional methods had always been effective for my students, so having to toss everything and use completely new tech was terrifying. It was as if someone emptied Julia Child’s kitchen of all her tools, replacing them with a microwave, asking her to create the same dishes as before. Learning how to use all the new methods of instruction was one of my greatest challenges, but it turned out to be exactly what I needed to push me out of my comfort zone, take some risks, and really broaden my skills in the classroom.
I also found it exceedingly tough to adapt to a classroom environment that didn’t allow me to interact easily with my students. The daily conversations, literary discussions, and general congeniality I share with my kids (and they with each other) vanished, at least initially. It took a lot of creativity to find ways to bring that engagement back via screens but DisplayNote helped with that considerably.
What tips would you share with fellow teachers based on your experience?
1. Be genuine with your students
Kids understand anxiety all too well, and they’re incredibly sympathetic when you tell them that you’re not sure how this new approach will work (opening a Google Meet, casting to their screens, etc.) but that you’re going to give it a try. This actually helps them with their own risk aversion; letting them watch you try something out without knowing how it will go, troubleshooting as you go, is a great way to reassure them that they can try new things, too.
2. Request time for collaboration with your fellow teachersPrincipals are always looking for ways to help professional learning communities with their work, and they benefit when teachers work together to make instruction more effective. Ask your administrator if you can have time on your next professional development day for working with your colleagues, familiarising yourself as a group with your hybrid tech setup, and consider creating a shared space where teachers can add their successful lessons.
3. Play around with your tech and all the features of the apps on it. You can’t break it
We use DisplayNote’s screen sharing software on our screens and there’s nothing you can tap that can’t be untapped so don’t be afraid of playing around. If you’re 50+ like me, you might have lingering fears about the old Commodore64: one wrong command and you were hopelessly stuck. Tech has come a long way since then, so don’t be afraid to click on everything!
4. Be aware of bandwidth
There will be more bandwidth available at your school, so it’s helpful to remind at-home students about other devices that may be using WiFi. The more connected devices, the more chance of glitchy screens. Ask students to disconnect their other devices from the WiFi at the start of the class.
5. Get physical to keep everyone engaged.
When teachers and students are stuck behind screens, the back-and-forth dynamic can stagnate quickly. Put your laptop on a podium and stand up to teach, moving about your classroom “stage” just like you would in person.
Teach your kids basic response signals they can use when muted for a meeting (sign language yes, no, or a, b, c, or d…holding up fingers for 1-5, literally raising a hand instead of clicking the “raise hand” button). If you have some kids at home and some at school, turn your monitor so both groups can see each other – letting kids at home still feel involved goes a long way in keeping everyone engaged.
What was your hybrid classroom technology set up before using DisplayNote solutions?
Initially, I used Google Meet for video and audio, and while this worked well up to a point, it lacked the right tools for two-way content sharing and engagement. So I created a workaround by pointing my web camera at the board. This created its own problems with angling and moving the camera to capture the screen, my students at home couldn’t read the content on the screen plus it was a one-way system with no way for my students to share and contribute their work back to the class. I felt this was important for engaging all the students in learning.
Once we started using DisplayNote’s wireless presentation and screen broadcasting tools alongside the big screen, all of a sudden my students could share what was on their screen with the rest of the class and I could share what was on my screen to their devices. The fact that the kids can share freely has made the class just as engaging as if they were all in the same room. Distance doesn’t matter.