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Hybrid Helpers: School Districts Successfully Navigate the New Normal

Article from edtechmagazine.com published on March 24, 2021

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From the article published in: Hybrid Helpers: School Districts Successfully Navigate the New Normal

Hybrid Helpers: School Districts Successfully Navigate the New Normal

Schools invest in technology to enable hybrid instruction with an eye toward the post-pandemic future.

After nearly a full year of remote learning, the Los Gatos Union School District in California reopened its schools in February with a hybrid learning model: Half the students attend school for in-class instruction, while the other half join live through videoconferencing, allowing teachers to teach both groups simultaneously.

To ensure safe social distancing, each cohort attends class in person on alternate days. But to make it work, the K–8 district invested in new classroom technology that includes a webcam, a 70-inch TV, and a wireless microphone and speaker system, so everyone can see and hear each other.

“It’s hard enough to teach a third-grade class in front of you or on Zoom, but to do both at the same time is challenging. That’s asking a lot of our teachers, so we want to provide them with as many tools as we can to make it as easy as possible to have a good experience,” says Tim Landeck, the district’s director of technology, assessment and accountability.

Districts and schools have retooled education on the fly during the pandemic. Some have remained fully online. Others have switched back to full in-person learning, but they adjust to virtual learning if COVID-19 cases spike. Many offer a choice: fully virtual or hybrid instruction, a blend of in-person learning and remote instruction that includes synchronous and independent learning.

We want to provide [teachers] with as many tools as we can to make it as easy as possible to have a good experience.”

Tim Landeck Los Gatos Union School District

Within the hybrid model, some teach in-class and remote students simultaneously, which requires an investment in classroom tech to ensure they can communicate, collaborate and share content.

That includes autotracking video cameras that follow teachers as they roam the classroom; wireless microphones and speakers for better sound, which is important because those in the classroom are wearing masks; and large video displays, so teachers can project the remote students to the classroom, says Mike Peters, CDW•G’s manager of classroom transformation.

“They want to make the student and teacher experience as seamless and natural as possible,” he says.

Districts have purchased audiovisual equipment and other technology to educate students in the short term, but the technology also fits their long-term goals. Before the pandemic, rows of desks facing forward were out, and a modern classroom with Wi-Fi, mobile devices, audiovisual equipment, and flexible furniture that improved engagement and encouraged creativity and collaboration were in.

For districts doing hybrid instruction, these tech investments bring them closer to that vision. They also open up new remote educational opportunities after the pandemic is over, district leaders say.

“This is a large investment for our district. We want to make sure it’s got some longevity and is valuable for years to come,” Landeck says.

Hybrid Model Allows for Social-Emotional Growth in Students

The Los Gatos Union School District adopted hybrid instruction — dubbed the “Roomers and Zoomers” model — to allow students a safe way to go back into the classroom, says Arcia Dorosti, the district’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

“Online is not ideal. Roomers and Zoomers is not ideal either, but we are concerned about the social-emotional needs of our students and want to give them an opportunity to rejoin their classmates for in-person instruction,” he says.

To enable hybrid instruction, the five-school, 3,000-student district standardized on a 70-inch Vizio TV; a 23-inch HP 4K monitor to give teachers more screen space to work; a stand-alone webcam, so remote students on Chromebooks can see the teacher; and a FrontRow Juno speaker system that includes a wireless teacher microphone.

The audio system is critical and allows remote students to hear their teacher, but it also evenly distributes sound, so students in the back row can hear the teacher with the same volume and clarity as if they were in the front row, Landeck says.

He equipped Los Gatos’ 160 teachers with new laptops and replaced document cameras with a combination tablet and Belkin Tablet Stage stand. He also purchased digital multimedia receivers to allow teachers to stream video and show websites. A Kensington docking station with multiple ports ties the equipment together.

DISCOVER: These 3 online learning tools help boost remote instruction.

One District Accelerated Their Tech Adoption Plan

In Texas, the San Antonio Independent School District has long battled the digital divide. But because of the pandemic, the district was able to bridge the technology gap and implement many of its digital transformation goals in months instead of years.

“We used this as an opportunity to fast-track a lot of things we had on our radar,” says Ken Thompson, San Antonio ISD’s chief information technology officer.

Before COVID-19, Thompson planned to implement one-to-one over a five-year period. But when the coronavirus struck, the district purchased 30,000 Dell and HP Chromebooks and 13,000 tablets to equip every student with devices so they could learn remotely. Through district funds and grants, San Antonio ISD also acquired 19,500 wireless hotspots for students who needed internet access.

Over the summer, the IT department installed a learning management system so students could access educational content online and interact with teachers and classmates.

The district, which educates 46,000 students across more than 90 schools, also purchased new classroom technology to implement hybrid instruction: tablets as video cameras and FrontRow Juno speakers to ensure in-class and remote students could hear. IT staff attached the tablets to Swivl robots that rotate and automatically follow teachers, so remote students can always see their teachers as they move around.

“All the technology was a massive effort,” Thompson says.

In early 2021, about 30 percent of students attended school in person, while the remaining students learned remotely. The district chose students who had the biggest need for in-class instruction: special education students, English language learners and those struggling academically at home, says Superintendent Pedro Martinez.

Faculty have long wanted to integrate more technology into learning, so the recent investments provide them the tools they need to transform education post-pandemic, Martinez says.

“We can rethink homework,” he says. “If children have gaps, we can give them customized assignments using technology to address their skills. That’s the potential we see.”

Can Remote Learning Be Permanent?

This school year, Xavier High School, a Catholic school with 614 students in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, deployed a hybrid learning model using tablets and a tripod, allowing remote students to connect to their teachers’ classrooms via Zoom and take part in class. The school split the student body into two groups, and they take turns coming to campus for in-class instruction.

Principal Angela Olson sees some use cases where the school can take advantage of videoconferencing after the pandemic is over. For instance, parents could meet with teachers through videoconferencing applications instead of having to leave work and drive to school, she says.

Remote learning could work occasionally in certain circumstances; for example, with students who have to leave school for a sports competition. In those cases, teachers can record their lectures for students.

“The students could access the recordings later. That would be super easy and reasonable,” she says.

READ MORE: Remote learning creates new opportunities for K–12 education.

3 TIPS FOR IMPLEMENTING HYBRID LEARNING

Consider cart-based options: These mobile carts house everything teachers need for hybrid instruction, including a large-format display and an all-in-one videoconferencing system with built-in video camera, speakers and microphone, says CDW•G’s Mike Peters. This gives schools the flexibility to use nontraditional rooms as classrooms, including media centers and gyms.

Pilot the technology: Los Gatos Union School District tested several hybrid models with 10 teachers before going live with hybrid instruction. That allowed them to find problems and troubleshoot them, says Tim Landeck, the district’s director of technology, assessment and accountability.

Support professional development: Los Gatos offered teachers an hour of one-on-one classroom instruction in addition to training videos and online help documents, Landeck says.

Read more about the value of professional development in tech implementations at CDWG.com/LeanderISD.

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