Exploring Learning Spaces During Remote and Hybrid Learning

learning spaces
(Image credit: Pixabay)

During a recent Tech & Learning district leadership roundtable, sponsored by Nureva, school district administrators from around the country came together to discuss learning spaces during remote and hybrid learning.

In addition to discussing what’s going on currently, educators shared what they think learning will look like after the pandemic. All agreed that many of the innovations and solutions that have been implemented in the past year will continue to be part of instruction. Vetting and refreshing products and platforms will be a focus, as well will be designing new schools and redesigning existing classrooms to accommodate hybrid and remote learning. 

“I just want to put out there the idea of if we even need brick-and-mortar walls,” said Phil Hintz, Director of Student Information, Barrington SD220 in Illinois. “You know, like rethinking the whole idea of a computer lab -- it really shouldn't be a thing anymore, other than possibly for esports or specific STEM lessons -- a lot of that stuff should be in all classrooms. And then as we're moving forward, when building, what is the purpose for because that has totally exploded into a new realm thanks to this pandemic.”

Key Takeaways

Student engagement is still top priority. Numerous hurdles have been encountered during remote and hybrid learning, from simultaneously balancing in-person and remote instruction to managing all the technology involved. 

However, the main focus continues to be on students, especially equity and making sure everyone has access to learning. And once they’re connected, the effort shifts to keeping them engaged.

“It's been challenging to get them to simply turn on their cameras,” said Hintz, Director of Student Information for Barrington SD220 in Illinois. “So they're connected but are they really connected? They're hiding behind the scenes, they're lurking there in the classrooms as opposed to actually being engaged.”

“Those students who are completely remote have lost out on collaboration,” said Eileen Belastock, Director of Technology and Information at Nauset Public School in Massachusetts. “The students who are able to get to school are able to better engage and so it just hasn't been fair or equitable.”

The sound of success. Students, educators, parents, and other stakeholders said having the right tools and devices to communicate better during remote and hybrid learning helps improve engagement. For example, all of the participants had piloted the Nureva HDL300, which captures sound from classrooms and remote environments simultaneously.

“My students at home on their laptops do say that I sound better compared to the other teachers that aren't using it,” said Katie Sutton, junior high science teacher in Bunker Hill CUSD #8 in Macoupin County, Illinois. “The kids in the classroom like it when they can hear the voices of their friends at home coming over as if they were in the room. So that definitely helped increase the engagement as far as the kids at home feeling like they are in the classroom.”

At Nauset Public School, a Nureva device was set up in a conference room, said Belastock. “For us, it was one of the best locations we could have put it,” she said. “We decided to use it for some of our parent teacher conferences, faculty meetings, and things like that in which we have to reach a larger group of people. We tested it from all parts of the room, and everybody on a Zoom call is able to participate and hear everything going on.”

Other potential solutions and resolutions. Solving problems during the pandemic and remote learning has been varied as there are school districts. Everyone seems to have found something a little different that works for them, with plans to continue successful practices beyond the pandemic.  

For example, in Wichita Falls ISD, Texas, there are plans to have a full virtual academy next year in addition to handling some subjects virtually, such as secondary school English or social studies, according to Frank Murray, the district’s Director of Instructional Technology. “There's a lot of campuses or districts in Texas that are starting to move to a full remote academy so we know if we don't go this direction we're going to lose students to our charter schools that are offering the full remote,” Murray said. “We're trying to ease the burden on our teachers of having to manage face-to-face and online kids.”

Barrington SD220 is considering a similar all-virtual program as there are students who are thriving in a distance learning environment. “It's another way of meeting their needs,” said Hintz, suggesting a dual-credit option could be offered at the high school level in which they could earn college credit simultaneously.

At Gilbert Public Schools in Arizona, there’s discussions to have full virtual options for elementary schools but a hybrid-style option for middle and high school students in which they can participate in remote learning as an elective but also stay involved in face-to-face social and extracurricular activities, said Jon Castelhano, Executive Director of Technology.  

Over at Bunker Hill CUSD, Superintendent Todd Dugan said remote learning has created an opportunity for students who have gotten into trouble in brick-and-mortar schools. “We will never send another child to alternative school because when you put somebody in alternative school, typically it never ends well,” Dugan said. “If a student is expelled for his or her own behaviors, and is not a good fit for public education, they're now going to go remote.”

Positive outcomes. Although the pandemic has created incredibly difficult conditions for everyone, there have been some silver linings, particularly in regard to remote learning. 

Frank Pileiro, Supervisor of Technology at Linwood Board of Education in New Jersey talked about how teachers have demonstrated their creativity to figure out solutions on the fly, even those who weren’t familiar with tech. “Teachers have been making those bitmoji classrooms that were interactive so when the kids were at home, they could click on different teachers and listen to the teacher, read a story to them,” said Pileiro. “We had a virtual back to school night in which the principal actually made bitmoji hallways and classrooms, and the parents clicked into the different ones and there was a teacher. It’s really impressive that teachers who were very hesitant to use technology, just hunkered down and learned, showing some really large advances in their skills.”

“I feel like the level of proficiency that our teachers now have with technology and teaching remotely has grown 10 years in one,” said Dugan of Bunker Hill CUSD. “It would have taken 10 years of targeted concentrated, sustained professional development to get them to this level this quickly.”

“It's just it's forced us teachers to grow, to try new technologies that we may not have thought of before,” said Sutton, also of Bunker Hill. “I feel like I've become a master of Google Meet in a very short time.”

In addition to giving freedom to teachers to try new lessons and tools, students now have more voice in their learning, said Matthew X. Joseph, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Leicester Public Schools in Worcester County, Massachusetts. “We don't have an option but to let them participate because teachers can't give out as many worksheets,” Joseph said. “They've discovered ways to really align assignments, they are creating YouTube videos and are creating portfolios, they're using Flipgrid to crowdsource ideas.”

Another positive outcome is an increased focus on access, said Hintz. “For a long time, we as tech directors have been saying that there's an equity issue and in kids being able to have opportunities through the internet,” he said. “That spotlight is shining as bright as it possibly can on the fact that we need to do something different. We need to make access at everybody's household as important as electricity, running water, and access to food for that matter. And now it's on the forefront, we can't ignore it.”

Ray Bendici is the Managing Editor of Tech & Learning and Tech & Learning University. He is an award-winning journalist/editor, with more than 20 years of experience, including a specific focus on education.