Hybrid Learning at Holy Child
There is a lot that goes into making hybrid learning work. It is not just about classroom cameras, microphones, laptops, and a broadband internet connection. Although, these are important. Very important. There is also collaboration, trust, the joy of learning, the love of teaching, school pride, spiritual fortitude, and compassion for others. Luckily, none of these things are in short supply at Holy Child, even if hard rains do diminish slightly the broadband connection and the joy of learning. Technology functions to mediate all the wonderful qualities that Holy Child for so long has nourished. Indeed, technology even amplifies these qualities, accelerates them. Hybrid learning does have its challenges, no doubt. But it is through these challenges that our good qualities are drawn forth.
There are many innovative tools teachers use in their hybrid classrooms. Nearpod, for example, combines a traditional slideshow with real-time, interactive capabilities. Students love the “Time to Climb” activity, where they choose from an array of cute animal avatars before racing them up a mountain. The student who gets the most correct answers in the fastest amount of time finds herself alone at the summit. There are other important considerations to be had, though, like which student’s animal is the cutest, the best dressed, and why the penguin is at a natural disadvantage to the fox in running up a mountain. There is also Flipgrid, which is a video app that creates personalized student responses to a teacher’s discussion question. Flipgrid has the effect of a split-screen TV interview; both teacher and student share the extra concern of “looking good” on camera.
All teachers use Microsoft Teams to facilitate hybrid learning, and its “breakout room” feature— where students shuttle back and forth from the main virtual classroom to their own smaller group rooms—makes group work interesting and engaging. Breakout rooms are some of the best antidotes to students feeling left out in hybrid settings—groups are always comprised of members from both cohorts, so students at home occupy the same intimate space as their peers at school. Also, “breakout” rooms just sound liberatory in a way, like one could escape school at any time. But teachers can breakout as well. I am sure students are a bit wary of teachers “dropping in” at that inopportune time, which is why I always give them a gentle reminder of that possibility. When I do drop in, nine times out of ten students are working hard on the assigned task. One time out of ten they are rather engaged in what we call the “social-emotional” side of learning—asking each other how they are doing, cracking jokes, planning extra-curricular activities, complaining. I am careful at hiding my joy when I interpose on these social-emotional gatherings. I want them to know I am business. Shakespeare. Grammar. Serious stuff. But well-being is at the forefront of all teachers’ minds.
Having a predictable yet differentiated day-to-day experience for students also makes hybrid learning work. Students recognize each of their teacher’s styles and personalities reflected in the way they spend the first five minutes of each class. Some play music. Some begin with prayer. The more organized of us will have projected the itinerary and goals for that day’s class. Others throw a low-stakes question in the chat so that everyone can immediately participate. Still others give a 50-point timed exam that determines whether the student will have a successful or failed future. Whatever happens in these first five minutes, students and teachers alike discover that this hybridized technological classroom brings out the best in us.
My Humanities students know that the ancient Greeks conceived of technology differently than us—their word was tekhnē, which referred to a person’s skill or means in accomplishing an end. Technology wasn’t seen by the Greeks as an object. Today, we should view the technology associated with hybrid learning as a means. It is the means by which the joy of learning and the love of teaching are magnified.
Written by: Zac Petersen, US English Teacher and English Department Chair