Hoover City Schools in suburban Birmingham, AL, was already one-to-one when the pandemic struck in March. And while its transition to remote learning in the spring was relatively painless, teachers and students continue to adjust to the new realities of hybrid school days.
In this conversation with eSchool News, Bryan Phillips, CTO of Hoover City Schools, describes some of the positives he notices with this forced migration and divines which practices should probably remain once we get back to whatever normal is.
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eSN: What are some of the things your teachers are doing that they didn’t do before COVID, but you think they will continue to do when the pandemic finally goes away?
BP: A lot of teachers are running Google Meet every day, recording their lesson, and keeping it. So the kids that aren’t there, they can just send it to them. It’s a vlog—a video diary of what they do every day. Keeping those lesson plans, I think that’s a plus.
For a lot of the advanced courses, we don’t have a teacher for both physical and virtual. So she may have office hours on Tuesdays with the remote kids can ask questions, which I think will be a huge plus moving forward. Some kids may not feel comfortable walking up to a teacher or calling a teacher over their desk in class and asking a question. But if they can go back and send the teacher a message, “Hey, I need to talk to you.” They get them on Meet and work that out and learn whatever that concept is. That’s something you do in college. Well, kids are now learning it in seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th grade.
eSN: Remote learning and things like video conferencing have been getting a bad rap with all the complaints of Zoom fatigue, etc. Have you seen any positive aspects?
BP: I think the virtual office hours is a huge one, and of course, everything being in the cloud, not tied to our network, not tied to anywhere specific. When COVID went into full mode, full lockdown, we had kids who were no longer in Hoover that had went to stay with grandparents in other states or wherever else. So I start looking at IP addresses of our Chromebooks. I mean, they’re all over the US! So I think that showing the remoteness of it all was a plus—that our kids can still learn from our teachers, but be anywhere. Also, faculty meetings that used to last two hours now last 15 minutes, because you got a bulleted list, you’d run through it, you’re done.
eSN: How do you see faculty adjusting to these new tools and dynamics?
Keeping COVID innovations even after the pandemic passes
BP: I will tell you a rough guess that 75 percent of our teachers right now use the devices for the kids three times a week. I think moving forward that number will be 80, 90 percent. A lot of them have learned they can ask questions they’ve never asked before. They’re no longer the smartest person in the room. The collective internet is the smartest person in the room. So that was a big learning point for our teachers, when they realized, okay, we have to ask questions we’ve never asked before and look for different answers to questions we have heard before.
eSN: So do you feel this will ultimately improve the quality of education over time? Is this the promise of “anytime, anywhere learning” being realized?
BP: So the idea of our engaged learning initiative (before the pandemic) was to engage them more than we were engaging them from 8 am to 3 pm. To engage them at home, to engage them wherever we could to extend that day, to give them more time learning. That’s the whole idea. We still want to do the same thing. If you look at any study and you look at any of the numbers, kids who have more opportunities learn more. So if we can give every kid the same amount of advanced opportunities than what we had, we’ve done our job.
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