Through our experiences, we learned a great deal, and we have spent the summer translating those learnings into a pedagogical philosophy and accompanying infrastructure that will not just support our students’ remote learning needs for the 2020-2021 school year but also allow us to continue advancing our mission and provide the level of experience and educational engagement that our community expects. Students are welcome to try the Remote Learning paradigm for a two-week period. However, once a student chooses a model (full remote or in-person), they will be committed to this paradigm for the first trimester. Please note: Students will not be permitted to flip-flop between the two models due to logistical issues. Exceptions will be made for medical reasons or if a student becomes ill and/or has to quarantine.
From a pedagogical perspective, our community’s experiences this past spring helped us recognize the challenges of translating the Belmont Hill experience that invests heavily in interpersonal connections and collaboration into a remote environment. But despite those challenges, we also recognize that finding an effective way to do so is critical to our success within this new paradigm. While there is no substitute for in-person education, we recognize that not all students and faculty members will be able to be physically present in class each day. More so, as a school, we will need to be able to quickly transition into and out of remote learning.
To meet these needs, we have drawn on best practices, our own learning, and expert guidance to create an infrastructure that will work for both hybrid and remote learning models because we know that at least some portion of or all of our community will be working remotely at various points during the school year. In addition, our remote learning infrastructure recognizes the open-ended nature and shifting landscape of this school year. Most importantly, however, this approach, detailed below, recognizes the importance of accommodating multiple learning and teaching styles to produce the best results.
- From a technology standpoint, our infrastructure is built on two foundational components: Zoom Rooms and a new learning management system, Canvas.
This past spring, faculty members relied on Zoom to hold synchronous classes, and they blended lecture with group work by taking advantage of Zoom’s breakout rooms feature. Our community knows how Zoom works and how to make it work for their needs, so we are investing our efforts in enhancing our Zoom capabilities as a school.
This summer, we have outfitted all of our teaching spaces with Zoom room systems that use cameras and different display technologies. These upgrades will enable all of our students and faculty to be able to learn together regardless of where they are physically located—be it in our brick-and-mortar classrooms or in their own homes.
- Each of our Zoom room sets-ups consists of a large screen to view those working remotely during class and digital content. Each room is also equipped with a camera that broadcasts video of the teacher during class if the teacher is present or broadcasts the class if the teacher is remote. By managing the Zoom room from an iPad, faculty will also be able to display course content while simultaneously appearing in the class themselves. Belmont Hill teaching spaces will include a Promethean board that allows faculty to more easily share and manipulate course content with students. Each member of the class being able to see the other members of their class as well as the course’s content will be a marked shift from what our community was capable of this past spring when just using Zoom video conferencing.
In addition to improving our hardware infrastructure to better support hybrid and online learning, Belmont Hill also transitioned from using Google Applications to using Canvas
, a best-in-class learning management system.
- While Canvas is visually simplistic and easily manipulatable, it also offers a number of robust features that improve how teachers and students can share information. When considering learning management systems, the school sought a system that would work for a broad range of learners, teachers, and disciplines.
One of our community’s largest takeaways from this past spring’s experience was the challenges presented by having teachers and students interacting and sharing information on different platforms. Where students were previously receiving course content and learning course skills through email, Google Classrooms, Google Drive, and Google Sites, this year students will be able to receive all of their course content and do some of their learning through Canvas alone. Because it works on an embed principle rather than a link principle, Canvas allows teachers and students to more easily share a variety of different information with the fewest number of mouse clicks. Furthermore, Canvas' integration capabilities allow faculty members to draw upon a broad range of cutting-edge learning applications, such as FlipGrid, Loom, and EdPuzzle, without having students navigate away from Canvas.
Canvas’ discussion forums will allow students to share their thoughts, opinions, and reflections in several different forms—written, audio, or video. By using Canvas’ quiz function and its grading software, teachers will be able to better assess students in an online environment and utilize real-time metrics to inform how they structure their classes.
Through both these hardware and software changes, we believe that Belmont Hill is well-positioned for the year ahead—a year that will demand flexibility, dynamic change, and timely transitions from one mode of learning to another. Like all academic institutions, we are dedicated to remaining true to ourselves and the interpersonal relationships and academic rigor that have been hallmarks of a Belmont Hill education. As we continue to evolve our approach to hybrid and remote learning, we take comfort in the fact that we as a community are all in this together and will problem solve, adapt, and evolve to provide our students with the best possible education.