Remote Reflections: One Class, 55 ClassroomsRoundup
tags: teaching history, COVID-19, remote learning
John Hopper teaches grades 10–12 for the Granada School District in Granada, Colorado. In 2019, the AHA awarded him the Beveridge Family Teaching Prize for distinguished K–12 history teaching.
On March 13, I watched as the national news reported that many schools in the United States were beginning to close in response to COVID-19. I immediately wondered, “what will we do if we have to close?” My small K–12 school district is in an agricultural area with many of our students living on remote farms or in the small town of Granada, Colorado (population 517, according to the 2010 Census). Many of our students would struggle without in-person instruction and some lack access to technology or the internet at home. Most of their parents are essential agricultural workers, so they would still have to work even if our school closed. During spring break, Governor Polis issued a statewide order to close schools.
What was I going to do for my students? I teach grades 10–12. My seniors are in college dual-credit classes with Lamar Community College and, through a distance lab that allows me to teach in Granada and have my lessons broadcast, I teach to 7 other rural schools across 150 miles in southeastern Colorado. Although my students were used to receiving instruction from me remotely, they no longer had the support of their on-site proctors or schools. Likewise, I could no longer rely on the on-site proctors to help with simulations, hand out supplies, or serve as a student’s primary point of contact. Without them, I suddenly had 55 students spread across southeastern Colorado in my first-hour class and no additional support. In stark contrast, the rest of my sections were small, just eight to twelve students from my own district. Luckily, I was able to use my distance lab for all my classes during COVID.
In the week we had to prepare to teach totally online, local internet providers connected more homes to the internet while the district distributed phones that could act as wireless hotspots. Even with these programs, I had 15 students who relied on smartphones to complete all their work. I needed to get creative to make sure they could submit written assignments and exams. Students who used their phones for class assignments did not have access to Microsoft Word, so I asked them to write down their answers, take a picture or scan it with an app, and send it back to me. Some students texted the photo to my phone instead of trying to send the picture via email. This worked well and allowed them to complete their assignments.
I had 15 students who relied on smartphones to complete all their work. I needed to get creative to make sure they could submit written assignments and exams.
Thanks to being in a very remote part of Colorado, my district has been using various distance-learning tools ever since fiber optics arrived in the area. My first couple of years teaching this way were tough, but the longer I used this technology the easier it became. Having years of experience with using this technology was a major advantage during COVID. I was used to interacting with students over the web and had access to more advanced technology than many of my peers in my district.
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