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Hybrid Learning at Calhoun: Teaching with Technology

Hybrid learning at Calhoun has led to an expansion of the tools and applications we’ve brought into the classroom. Across grade levels, teachers have broadened the use of technology and harnessed it to engage students in novel ways. 

During the “crash course” that came from abruptly shifting to distance learning at the start of the pandemic, faculty learned a lot about integrating technology into the classroom. Hybrid learning presented a new challenge: using technology to ensure that the virtual and in-person experiences would be equally successful. “Hybrid is the most challenging of models because a teacher has to pay attention to students who are physically present and at home, and figure out how to engage both groups in a way that feels natural in a very unnatural setting,” says Julie Torres, Academic Dean for Grades 6-12.

Calhoun’s solution to this challenge was the “Zoombot,” a device created by the school’s IT team that consists of a computer mounted on a moveable stand equipped with a camera and microphone. With Zoombots, remote students can participate in class activities and discussions, and teachers are able to connect in-person and at-home learners. “Teachers have done a wonderful job of making the Zoombot part of their class. [Zoombots] have been really effective in ensuring that everyone continues to feel part of the school community,” Julie explains. 

Teacher connects with students on Zoom

In addition to the Zoombots, Calhoun teachers use a variety of different technological tools to help bring learning to life in the hybrid classroom — from Jamboard, a collaborative virtual whiteboard, to Padlet, an online bulletin board; PearDeck, an interactive slideshow tool, or Book Creator, an app for making digital books. Each division uses a learning management system for daily communication and assignments, each carefully chosen to meet the needs of particular age groups: Seesaw for students in preschool through fifth grades, and Schoology for sixth through twelfth grades. Using these and other tools, Calhoun teachers have been able to recreate the same dynamic and experiential learning even for students who are tuned in from their living rooms. 

To help prepare for hybrid learning, a tech task force met over the summer, chaired by Julie and made up of faculty and administrators from across departments. Multiple surveys were sent to the community to inform planning and take stock of experiences from the spring. Drawing on the school’s nationwide professional networks, teachers participated in numerous technology trainings throughout the spring and summer, and they also led workshops for one another to share the tools that they had found useful and how they had applied them in the classroom.

Before kicking off the school year, teachers spent dedicated time test-driving the Zoombots and tech tools of various mediums to ensure a smooth transition for students. The goal of this preparation, Julie explains, was to put teachers in the shoes of their students to see what would work best in a hybrid environment. “We knew we needed to have teachers learn in the same ways that we were going to be asking their students to learn. Teachers could then reflect on their own learning and adapt their curriculum, activities and lessons based on that experience.” 

While technology is central to hybrid learning, it’s not the tools themselves but how Calhoun teachers have used them that makes the learning effective. “Ultimately, you still want to recreate interaction, collaboration, inquiry and creativity, and so it’s important to find and use tools in ways that will bring out those qualities for kids,” says Julie. Faculty have successfully drawn on technology to preserve the hallmark depth and dynamism of a Calhoun education, and that has been one of the unexpected positive outcomes of the school’s shift to hybrid learning. 

“[Hybrid learning] has forced us to learn all of these new ways to share content,” says Julie. “One of the benefits of this situation will be that teachers figured out that delicate balance of integrating technology into the classroom in a way that enhances teaching and learning. When this is all over, we're absolutely keeping all of the good and positive aspects of technology.”