Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Advice for Back to (hybrid) School

students writing outside
learning outside by me
My school has moved to a hybrid model which started on Monday, August 17. Half of the students attend block classes in person on Monday and Tuesday while the others attend online, vice-versa on Thursday and Friday. Wednesday is advisory, office hours, etc.

I just got off a Zoom meeting with my advisory students who are seniors. When asked how things are going so far, here's what they had to say.

Those who have attended in-person classes already this year said they prefer it to the completely online approach we did last spring. There are things they're adjusting to for sure, like wearing masks at all times and social distancing. One student said all she wanted to do was give her best friend a big hug when she first saw her but couldn't. Another lamented not being in the same cohort with most of his friends. One-way traffic in hallways and stairs, signage everywhere – a lot is different this year compared to any of the other years I've taught. But one constant for the in-person cohort was that they were actually happy to be back in school.

If you're situation is like mine and you're doing a hybrid approach blending online and in-person students, my remote students mentioned some things that are worth considering.

  • Find out quickly who is having issues with the technology. It's pretty easy to tell who's not in attendance online. Prioritize supporting those students. (Easier said than done, I know).
  • Create quality content. Record one of your first sessions, and then be honest with yourself. Would you want to watch an hour of it?
  • Pay attention to the audio and video quality of your conference. Routinely check in with the online students to see if they can actually see and hear what's going on. 
  • Make the most of in-person time. One of the common themes my students have is that they actually missed being at school, and a big part of that is physically being together (even if it means being six feet apart). If in hybrid mode, balance your attention. But when you dismiss the online students, be fully present for each other.
  • Seek out video conference mentors. Some of the newest teachers in my school are the ones who are using Zoom most efficiently. We tend to think of mentors as seasoned veterans, but especially now that isn't the case.
  • Simplify the tech. At the very least just make sure you can stream the class and that the remote students can see and hear adequately. For example, having more than one camera in the room is a nice idea, but if you're spending an inordinate amount of time trying to manage the remote technology, simplify. 
  • Engage the online students. Some of them mentioned feeling more like a spectator in some classes. 
  • Honor the students' time. Do we really want students staring at a screen all day? If we're not actively engaging them in an activity, do they really need to be in the conference?  Students appreciated the teachers who delivered content first, then assigned a task for them to do by the next in-person class.
  • Flip it (a little bit). I don't think we should flip all classes, but my students mentioned that it made sense for a class like music where the teacher records a demonstration for students to watch online and then perform in person. As my student told me: "at home you're learning; in school you're working."