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Teachers explore blended distance learning

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Teachers explore blended distance learning

Leander McGuigan leads a BDL demo lesson with teachers.

Two new words parents and teachers might hear a lot as BCSD students return to school: synchronous and asynchronous.

Synchronous refers to live instruction with a teacher, asynchronous has to do with any work that can be done independently from home.

The biggest difference between the type of blended distance learning (BDL) students did last spring and what they will be doing this semester is that students who chose the BDL pathway are going to tune into their classes while the teacher is leading instruction, as if they are actually in school.

In short: students will learn both synchronously and asynchronously.

Students return to school Sept. 8, and teachers are preparing to lead lessons that can be used for the traditional and BDL pathways.

On Sept. 1 and 2 the district held BDL lesson demonstrations in some of the schools that teachers, coaches and administrators could sign up for. It was a chance for teachers to brainstorm synchronous and asynchronous ideas, ask questions regarding technology and communication with BDL students — giving them a feel for how they will be able to engage the blended distance learners with the rest of the class.

The sessions were a collaborative effort between BCSD’s Academics and Innovation staff and the Office of Technology. The sessions were not to share a “formula” for BDL, but rather to provide an example for how a lesson could look for a class with both traditional and BDL students.

Some teachers gathered at Bowen’s Corner Elementary on Tuesday, where Lead Coordinator of Innovation Jennifer Croley and Coordinator of Special Services Leander McGuigan led an elementary grade-level lesson with attending teachers (see demo lesson in video).

Croley and McGuigan started off defining what BDL is and is not (as far as BDL in Berkeley County School District goes). BDL combines both synchronous and asynchronous learning. Chief Academics and Innovation Officer Kelly Wulf said via a video to teachers that there will be times when the traditional learning students are participating synchronously with BDL students. A variety of tools can be used for both traditional and BDL students and can vary from each group of students. Teachers are encouraged to identify learning targets and differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all students, regardless of their selected learning pathway.

BDL is not “e-learning” or “virtual learning at your own pace.” They are not pre-recorded lessons.

Wulf said just like in the spring, there will be different ways to tackle each day.

“We are all learning from these successes,” she said.

During their session, Croley and McGuigan asked for four of the attending teachers to volunteer to act as “BDL students” – these four teachers went into a neighboring classroom with their Chromebooks and instructions to use a Google Meet link provided through Google Classroom to participate in a mock lesson as if they really were a BDL student (same experience as the in-person attendees, just through the eyes of a BDL student).

All students joined the Google Classroom to get the lesson information. McGuigan led the lesson; she set up by joining Google Classroom on her laptop. She muted and turned the sound off because it only served as providing a visual to the BDL group (in this case, the visual was a slide show lesson on a child’s book). McGuigan virtually “shared” her screen with the BDL group for them to see the presentation.

She then logged onto the Google Meet on her Chromebook, with the sound “on” and unmuted so that BDL student could both see and hear her (using two devices to reach BDL students – a laptop and a Chromebook simultaneously).

McGuigan gave the teacher volunteers a few minutes to set up and log in from the other classroom. When they joined the Google Meet, McGuigan used two flashcards featuring a thumbs up and a thumbs down, and asked the BDL group: “Give me a thumbs up – can you hear me, yes or no?” When the group confirmed, she made sure the group members had their microphones muted and cameras turn on, and then dove into the mini lesson.

While she worked with the teachers, McGuigan also got to address some of the technology concerns, like a device freezing. At one point Google Meet stopped working on her laptop, so instead of being able to share her screen virtually, she just repositioned her Chromebook so students could still view the slide show she was going over with the traditional group.

They also talked about ways to check in with BDL students to make sure they are still engaged throughout the lesson (like asking them questions and making sure the students are providing feedback, which she did during the lesson).

McGuigan said technology and innovation teams have worked with teachers about activities they can do with Google offline, and making sure students have work they can do independently, so if the students get disconnected they will know what lesson items they can go ahead and tackle on their own.

Wulf said BDL provides a lot of flexibility while providing continuity; this is something traditional learning students can do if they get sick or something a teacher can do if she has to work from home.

“The more you do it, the better it’s going to get,” she said.

Croley said they are focusing on the aspect that teachers are not doing something completely different between BDL and traditional learners.

“You’re trying to find technology applications and different activities that lend to both BDL and traditional, because I think the misconception is that you’ve got to do something different,” she said. “You’re doing the same thing, just the applications that you use might be different.

Wulf said this is something the district would want to see anyway.

“Truly, in a classroom, we would want to see kids being given…multiple means to express their learning, and so it really does bring to life some of those elements of personalized learning that we’ve been working on in the past year,” she said.

Croley also said every day students are going to have different points of a lesson that are synchronous and asynchronous.

“They’re not going to be on a Google Meet all day, every day,” she said.

Mandy Lewandowski, math teacher at Philip Simmons High, attended one of the sessions led by Croley and McGuigan. She said teachers are given a lot for resources through Google Classroom and different free apps.

“It was awesome that we were able to learn how to effectively implement these into our classroom to create that traditional feeling, even for the blended learning students so the students will almost feel like they’re in the classroom, and to make it as seamless as possible,” she said.

Lewandowski said Google Classroom has different features that help, like a “hand raising” feature that allows a teacher to know a BDL student has a question.

“It was so nice to see district leaders research through trial and error, find out what’s the best for us so that we can use these different applications in our classroom to support our teaching style,” she said.

Lewandowski encouraged families not to get frustrated with technology issues, and to keep communicating with teachers about any problems.

“Obviously, we’re all going to experience technology issues and we’re all learning and we’re all in this together,” she said. “I would definitely reach out to your teacher and let them know the things that you’re experiencing so you can troubleshoot together.”