How to Efficiently Engage Students in a Hybrid Classroom

Photo by Yan Krukov from Pexels

Anyone who’s ever taught before knows how difficult of a job it is. In the traditional classroom, teachers have to maintain the attention of a significant group of students and convey complex concepts in ways they’ll not only understand but, over time, master. Yes, the work is very rewarding but the sheer effort required to complete this task well – day after day – demands not only passion but resolve. Still, we’re surrounded by wonderful educators who teach us and our children every day. And now, remote learning has extended the reach of those purveyors of knowledge. Thanks to the internet, direct access to the world’s brightest minds is no longer bound by geographic limitations. Indeed, as Web-based learning continues to evolve, cost, time, and other traditional barriers are steadily decreasing. The year 2020 accelerated this evolution, transforming many traditional teachers into remote educators almost overnight. The shift wasn’t pretty: the sudden replacement of a human-rich school interaction with file sharing or video conferencing quickly became the source of new issues. Article after article covered the detrimental effects (of this form) of remote learning on the social and mental well-being of students worldwide. Teachers suffered as well: replacing time-tested methods with digital-first solutions bred frustration and inefficiency. Though the situation is not fully resolved, it does seem that the worst may be behind us. Still, the pandemic has left something entirely new in its wake: hybrid learning. This term applies to the situation in which teachers simultaneously engage remote students as well as physically-present pupils. By requiring educators to address both of these disparate audiences at the same time, we’ve taken an already taxing job and made it even more difficult.

Hybrid education pros and cons

To some extent, hybrid education seems like a natural solution to the problem of partial attendance. Those who cannot join can still participate, at least in some fashion; again, prior to the internet this problem was merely a dream. But what does that participation look like? And what is the impact on the teachers charged with taming this problem?

To answer the question, let’s examine the solutions hitherto proposed. In a fully-remote classroom, digital-first options – such as “online whiteboards” or other teaching platforms – allow teachers to engage all students at once (at least, to some extent). This is not the case in the hybrid classroom: in-person students are completely blind to any of the teachers’ interactions with the remote portion of the class. The same is true in reverse, of course: any of the teachers’ interactions via traditional tools (e.g., on a blackboard) are a mystery to those joining remotely. The result is that teachers are having to do double work or simply teach less; neither of these are optimal.

But couldn’t the teacher simply point a camera at her blackboard and share it via a video conference? Theoretically, yes; but anyone who’s ever viewed a shared surface through a simple camera knows how frustrating the experience can be. Content is illegible and often obstructed. Worst of all, remote students’ participation is essentially reduced to the role of passive observers. 

What about specialized hardware? Tracking cameras often succeed in improving the legibility of board contents. Touchscreen monitors or smart boards allow teachers to mimic the use of traditional teaching tools while connecting with remote students. Sounds good! The problem: the price tag. There are over 100 million teachers on this planet and the vast majority of them work in schools that cannot afford to buy – much less maintain, support, and eventually replace – such expensive gadgets. And another issue: what happens when the teacher is the one working from home? It doesn’t take a pandemic to see that the immobility of hardware further limits its use.

ShareTheBoard – a new response to the difficulties of hybrid learning

A new answer has arisen to the challenge of simultaneously addressing remote and in-person students. ShareTheBoard, a new startup among hybrid learning solutions, has developed a Web application that digitizes handwritten content in real time. This means that teachers can continue to use traditional teaching tools – such as whiteboards, blackboards, or even pieces of paper – while addressing both groups of students. Digitized content can be shared online legibly, unobstructed (teachers literally appear transparent!), and can be saved by students at any time. This frees students to focus their attention on the teacher, as opposed to their shorthand. 

Moreover, ShareTheBoard offers remote students the ability to even interact with those board contents. Students can easily point to specific places on the board using a laser pointer feature, add digital content of their own, or post questions and comments that their teacher can then address. The solution allows educators to teach as they’ve always taught: no new tools, no new methods, no learning curve. The application does the heavy lifting, allowing teachers’ regular activities to simultaneously “work” for every student – now that’s hybrid teaching.

As a Web app, ShareTheBoard requires no new hardware. Teachers simply point their laptops at their board and teach as usual. The solution is categorically more cost-effective than hardware alternatives and – unlike those counterparts – can be used from home or anywhere else. School administrators will appreciate the built-in support, in addition to the application’s low price tag, ease of use, and effortless scalability. Students will appreciate the familiar environment of a teacher by the board, replete with eye contact and body language.

It’s very possible that hybrid education will remain with us, in some form or another, forever. The hybrid model is already common in the workplace, where semi-distributed teams complete complex assignments daily. As our education systems evolve to address new challenges, it’s important that change doesn’t come at the cost of the most critical component: the teacher. ShareTheBoard seems to reflect this understanding, delivering an affordable solution that allows teachers to address a complex problem without actually changing the way they teach.

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