The New Hybrid Blended Learning

Covid-19 and the New “Normal”

Here in Shanghai, schools are opening back up.  It’s a slow process and at our school, with only a few grades at a time.  In another week, we will have grades 4-12 on campus.  So what’s different?  There is definitely a new normal at school and it starts with temperature checks.  We are required to get our temperature checked four times a day: as we enter the campus, as we enter a building when we reenter the building from lunch, and before leaving campus.  Students must come in every day with a completed form about their health and travel updates of everyone in their household. Social distancing is now physical distancing.  Students are expected to keep their physical distance from each other.  There are signs where students can line up so they can keep a meter apart, there are signs on the stairwell to let them know how many steps they should be behind each other.  Walking in the hallways requires everyone to stick to the right side and there are specific doors to enter and exit. 

Our Current Situation

We are an international school that has students and teachers from all over the world and because of this, we have families and teachers who have been locked out of the country.  Our classrooms are now a hybrid.  With students all over the world, classroom teachers are expected to teach full time to those that are in class and still give meaningful academic lessons to those who are not in class.  How do we care for the social and emotional well-being of the students who are returning, the students who are stuck?  How do we support teachers’ social and emotional needs?  How do we support their workload as now things have seemingly doubled?  The biggest question being: HOW???? Obviously, with all of these questions, technology plays an incredibly huge role.  Traditional blended learning combines the classroom face to face time with online educational tools.  Students and teachers are interacting both online and offline.  However, with our current situation, we are looking at a hybrid blended learning. Interestingly enough, David Higginson writes a great blog post about the nuts and bolts of the hybrid blended learning in our upper school – which I didn’t know about until after starting my own blog post. I guess great minds think alike?  However, I’m focusing on the realities that many primary school teachers might face with this hybrid blended learning.  I’ll be sharing some options our teachers are considering and how we might balance the academic and social/emotional needs of our younger students.

Out of our grades 4 and 5 classes, we were fortunate enough to only be missing one grade 5 homeroom teacher but we had no music teachers and only one PE teacher.  The teachers decided to split the students from the missing homeroom teacher’s class and disperse them into the other grade 5 classes. This was possible because the other classes had smaller student numbers due to the travel restrictions.  The expectation is that students who are present and in class take priority because student safety will always be a main concern. So how can we create a cohesive community for students and teachers who are both overseas and those who are here while being mindful of the workload that has been put on our stressed out teachers for the last few months?

Options for Considerations

First we needed to figure out how we were teaching to both sets of students (those physically in Shanghai and those who are not).  Here are some options that we have put forward as a new form of hybrid blended learning to accommodate our current situation.

  1. Filming the Lessons
  2. Continue with the Current Model
  3. Hybrid Model

Option 1: Filming the Lessons

Photo by John-Mark Smith from Pexels

Teachers would film their lessons that they teach to students in class and post those videos online for students who are unable to attend so they can complete the work.

Pros:

  • Teachers don’t have to do the lesson twice.
  • They can post the video right into Seesaw (if its under 10 minutes) or teams for students to access the lesson.
  • Equipment for recording is cheap in China and we have extra devices. iPad stands and microphones have already been purchased just in case.

Cons:

  • Teachers will need extra equipment and set up the device in the classrom.
  • More technology for teacher to maintain.
  • The sound might be hard to hear if the device is far away.
  • The image on the board might be hard to see if the device is far away.
  • Things might not go as planned with students in the room etc. or there might be interruptions.

Option 2: Continue with the Current Model

Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels

Teachers would still create videos for those who are overseas just as they have been doing and then teaching the same lessons to students in person. 

Pros:

  • Students and parents are familiar with requirements and routines
  • The asynchronous learning works well for those students who are not in the same time zone

Cons:

  • Teachers will need to create content outside of teaching time so possibly more work

Option 3: Hybrid Model

Another option was to use the videos created to teach the class. For one of the grades, the teacher who is not on campus will focus on creating all of the content for literacy while teachers on campus will focus on the other subject areas. Another option for grade level teams is to to divide and conquer and assigned certain teachers with certain subjects. This is a great way to lessen the load for teachers.

Pros:

  • Students will get the same content
  • Teachers don’t have to create extra content
  • Students who need extra support could pause and rewind video on personal devices or alternatively
  • Teachers could send high students with the videos to work independently while teaching to a smaller group of students who might need extra support
  • Teachers can still answer live questions

Cons:

  • Teachers will need to plan ahead create the video in advance
  • Less opportunities for inquiry learning

Live Lessons

With any of the above models, teachers were still trying to figure out if and how live lessons could work within these models.  Teachers were hosting multiple live meetings with students per week.  How would this look now that we were back in class?   In the upper school, teachers would be teaching lessons while conducting a live lesson at the same time.  Students in class would be joining on their computer to the live lesson regardless if they were in the room or not.  They would be able to chat with classmates or ask teachers questions.  It would require teachers to moderate the chat while teaching the lesson which can be quite difficult but another option would have a student as a moderator. This worked well for teachers who were also not physically there.  The teacher that was in the room could help moderate the lesson and students were able to interact with other students and the teacher.  In the lower grades, educators were trying to balance the amount of screen time students were using.  Considering the amount of screen time students have been using in the last few months, being in school is giving them opportunities to see their friends face to face and we wanted to pull away from any unnecessary screen time.  We needed to remind students how to be more balance in their media use and we would need to show by example. 

Balancing Act

Photo by Gustavo Torres on Unsplash

We have decided to go with the route of a combination of many of these options.  In an effort to distribute the workload for teachers that have class and online obligations – the workload had doubled. Here are a few things that the teachers and the school has decided to do to help distribute the workload amongst all of the teachers.  However, this only works because only 2 grades are coming back with students.  If all students came back, the program would look very differently. 

Teachers have also decided that they will conduct a few of their in-class lessons while simultaneously hosting a live lesson.  Instead of just projecting the lesson on the board, they would mirror their screen while doing a screen share of the lesson on Microsoft Teams.  This can’t work for every lesson as it would be too much work for both the teacher and the students overseas but it a hybrid model that can help with the class community while easing the workload.   

School and Grade Level Community

  • With no music classes, Grades 1 – 3 teachers will step in and help conduct the classes with lessons and videos from the music teachers who are abroad
  • We created a prep schedule so that Grades 1 – 3 who do not have any students in school could possibly cover an extra prep or two for the Grades 4 or 5 teachers.  Teachers were able to choose the times they would be willing to cover so they can also maintain their online obligations and live lessons.
  • Teachers who are overseas are creating many of the video content that will be used to teach students (alternatively, they can be used by a Grade 1 – 3 teacher as the extra prep time for Grades 4-5 teachers).
  • Student support and EAL teachers who are overseas will conducts live lessons for online students who need extra support
  • Grade 1 – 3 homeroom and support teachers will do extra supervision duties as there need to be more people on duty to ensure physical distancing
  • Grade 4 – 5 teachers will have the option of using the prep schedule to ask for 3 extra preps a week to help maintain their online obligation.

Class Community

  • Teachers will alternatively host morning or afternoon meetings as a live lesson to give students the opportunity to engage with the class community no matter where they are.  The decision to host either a morning or afternoon meeting is to help accommodate students who might be in Europe or in the Americas. 
  • Students will be paired up in a buddy system so that one student who is in Shanghai is paired with a friend who is not.  They can catch them up or answer any questions about what is happening in class while continuing to create a class community atmosphere
  • Students who are participating in online learning will still receive individualized feedback from the instructor but students in the class would not
  • Students in-class are given the option of completing assignments on Seesaw but no feedback will be given

What does the future hold?

Students at SCIS using Book Creator to create introduction books about themselves

As I participated in the #edutechmeets Twitter chat, I started thinking about what are some things that could be continued onto next year?  While we don’t currently have a true blended learning model happening as not all of our students are in class – next school year will be different.  Will we finally embrace blended learning? 

I think one of the biggest buy-ins for teachers for next year in regards to blended learning is the fact that they have a ton of resources that they have already created.  Between the   Seesaw activities, their screencasting videos, or even the PowerPoints they created for their live lessons; teachers now have a bank of resources that would help make the transition into a blended learning an easier one.  As the tech coordinator, I plan on compiling these videos in a library of sorts on our shared server and organize it in a way that can be helpful for teachers.  These videos give students the opportunity to learn at their own pace.  Teachers are now more familiar than ever before with online resources like Pebble Go, Newsela, Padlet, and Flipgrid.  With the experience many teachers have gained during this Covid-19 period, I have no doubt they will be thinking of technology very differently for the next school year. 

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