Concurrently Speaking

We started a second week of preparation for the new school year today.  There are just so many things to take care of: cleaning out the gym after last week’s gatherings, checking in with student leaders, nurturing vital friendships, and planning for meetings can often keep you from getting to the work of curriculum.

Rumors are starting to swirl, just a bit, that we might return to some kind of lockdown in the coming weeks.  Even though our numbers are on the lower end overall, there is the concern of multiple days in the three-digit range.  For now, though, we have a plan in place.  We’re going to be 100% online for the first two weeks.  After that, we’re going to have half of the student body on campus for half the week each week.  A co-worker came across this June 2020 article over at Forbes that speaks to the benefits and challenges of the set-up.  First, the challenge:

Let’s start by recognizing the key problem for the concurrent classroom: an inequality of attention. (I’m reserving the term “hybrid” for educational experiences where all students in a class are online and then all students are face-to-face in a classroom together. For example, most executive MBA (eMBA) programs offer a hybrid format. A concurrent classroom, in contrast, has people online and in person in the same class at the same time.) Students physically in the classroom have an obvious advantage: they can interact more fluidly and naturally with the teacher and each other. The juxtaposition prompts online students to feel even more distant and disconnected by comparison, and more likely to succumb to the myriad distractions in their home. Even with clever technologies like screen sharing, tracking cameras, and omnidirectional microphones, attempts at free-flowing conversation between people in the classroom and students on video will encounter poor video resolution, echoing audio with lags and the inevitable but persistent mistakes with the “mute” button. Applying traditional teaching practices from in-person or online classes will fail to deliver high-quality, impactful educational experiences.

Yet the concurrent classroom is unavoidable.

From there, the article gives some of the potential benefits of the “concurrent” format and how to get there.  I had to laugh at the mention of the “cold call,” which is a great way to keep students on their toes.  But it’s definitely something that’s tricky when you’ve got students present but not in person.  And that pesky “mute” button (by necessity) also makes things interesting.

A good read and a sobering reminder of what stands on the horizon for many teachers across the world this fall.  It will be an interesting problem to try and solve.

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