This school year, my school is offering parents instructional options. For instance, parents can send their kids to school for face-to-face learning (albeit with said faces all wearing masks!). Another option, called synchronous learning, allows parents to keep their child at home where they can connect with their teachers and classmates live through Zoom. I have spent some time mentally walking through this synchronous option, trying to figure out how to best implement it effectively.
Synch Students Sightlines
My first thought centered around the student’s perspective – what they should see through the Zoom window into my room. In terms of interconnectivity, I wanted students at home to see their classmates – to have an instructional experience as close as possible to being in the classroom. But, like the traditional classroom, it was important to balance this need for peer connections with my need to – at times – command their attention. To that end, I decided to experiment with camera positioning to best achieve these two objectives. I tried placing my laptop (through which I would be connecting to Zoom) at the back of the classroom. That would allow home students to see many of their peers, maximizing the being-in-the-room effect. However, when I looked at the feed they would be seeing, I realized that the camera’s lens created a view where the whiteboard (along with the teacher) would appear very far away. The whiteboard would appear so small that writing or diagrams on the board would be almost impossible to decipher.
So, I tried positioning the laptop closer to the front of the room – but not too close. This position (adjacent to the second row of desks in the center aisle) was much better. The view of the whiteboard was vastly improved. And, the synchronous student had classmates in their field of vision.
Finally, to maximize my mobility, I chose to put my laptop on a cart mounted on wheels. This meant I could change the camera’s position quickly and easily, to best meet the needs of my students.
Next, I thought about sound. I wanted students joining us from home to be able to hear me clearly. That means that I needed something more effective than my laptop’s built-in mic. Also, I wanted a mic that gave me the freedom to move around the room and still offer quality sound clarity. I did not want to be a prisoner to my laptop – either unable to stray away from the mic because of audio quality reasons, or because I was tethered by a mic cord. My preferred solution was a wireless mic that I could clip to my shirt, or I could wear on a headset of some kind. I am currently seeking such a product. Wish me luck!
Another idea that popped into my head concerned instruction. How could I ensure my students at home experienced lessons or activities in a manner that was consistent with my students in the classroom? I came across a solution in a June 2017 post in the awesome educational blog Cult of Pedagogy by Jennifer Gonzalez. The post was about a tool called hyperdocs – instructional units packaged in electronic documents. Through a hyperdoc, a student would receive an entire unit in one chunk – via a vehicle such as a shared Google Slides presentation or a Google Doc. The presentation would be organized according to your school’s learning cycle. Students can either be guided through or explore it in a self-guided manner. The document provides links to all of the resources they need to complete that learning cycle. You can also provide places for students to take notes and to record their thinking and planning as they work through the lesson. These hyperdocs can also help teachers make interdisciplinary connections with their colleagues. In my new synchronous classroom, I can provide all students – at home or in the classroom – with a hyperdoc. We can move through the shared vehicle together, with students at home following on their computer while those in the classroom can access it through their laptop or via a projected version up on my screen.
This year will be like no other. While I can’t be 100% certain what my class will ultimately be like, I’m glad I took some time to mentally walk through some options before school actually started. However, even though I have some clear ideas in mind, I will remain open and flexible to ensure I provide what’s best for all my students.
If you have any ideas or thoughts about synchronous learning, please share them!
Have a great year!