Teachers and college professors have been given a huge challenge this month -- how to quickly adapt their classes for long-distance learning. North Carolina teachers are getting creative to engage their students.
WUNC's education team reached out to teachers and professors around the state to hear how they were adjusting their classes. We were impressed, really impressed, by some of the stories we heard.
Remember back when we were just starting to pay attention to how the coronavirus would affect our lives? Jordan Lee’s choir class at Western Guilford High School got ready by singing, “Wash your hands…Go wash your hands… If you don’t want Corona.”
Mar 13, 2020 at 5:49pm PDT
But then, schools let out, and Lee jumped in with an Instagram video to jokingly remind his students: "Chorus never stops."
Lee has to take a bit of a new approach to the class. While it’s less about the collective sound, he says it still gets to the heart of the subject.
“I think choir sounds, right now, like individual voices, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that," Lee said. "I think that allows people to feel like they have a voice, especially if it can still be celebrated while people are still alone.”
One thing our education team was wondering when we realized schools were going to move online: What does this mean for people who teach those hands-on classes -- like really hands-on?
What if you teach art, and your students were planning to learn the potter's wheel? Jim Tisnado is a ceramics professor at East Carolina University, and that’s exactly where he found himself a couple weeks ago.
"Panic, I think was the first thing that I thought of," Tisnado said. "I feel like I've been dropped into this hostile environment, and now I'm having to kind of MacGyver my way out of it."
Speaking of MacGyver, Professor Tisnado is actually pretty good with tools. He was teaching one of his classes to build a kiln this semester.
"I think what I'm going to have to do is video myself doing the kiln, like how to use the wet cutting saw and how to cut the bricks the right way and then how to lay the bricks down," Tisnado said.
Tisnado admits class won’t be the same -- and very few of his students have access to a potter's wheel -- but he says video conferencing has made things a lot easier than he imagined.
Physical Education and Health
There’s obviously a lot you miss out on by not having class in person. But Greg Mott, a physical education and health teacher at Hilburn Middle School in Raleigh has an advantage -- he teaches an online college class.
There are two main ideas Mott always teaches.
"You’ve always got to find time in your day to be physically active, but also find time to mentally relax," Mott said.
Which is why he sent a meditation video to students right before the official transition to online learning. He says it was the best way he could help, and any student could do these things anywhere.
Maybe, this year’s eighth grade class will learn that lesson better than any other. Mott’s solution of sharing yoga videos gets around a common problem -- students can be lacking equipment for other activities.
Painting and 2D Art
Anne Simpkins teaches painting at Elon University. Her students brought some of their supplies with them when they went home for spring break, but they may not have canvasses for their final projects.
"It's not ideal, but if it's an opportunity for someone to find creative ways to work in their home space, then maybe that's not such a bad thing," Simpkins said.
Simpkins said students could use a piece of wood coated in glue for a canvas or slabs of cardboard. In the past, one of her students turned in a final project on the back of a jean jacket. While that’s not too out of the ordinary for her students, these circumstances will really push them to be resourceful.
Remote learning is pushing teachers to be resourceful, too.
Cindy Estridge, a chemistry teacher at Kings Mountain High School, has been teaching for 23 years. This is the first time she’s made online video lessons, even though students have been asking for a while.
“This just really pushed me out there and I’m so glad I did it,” Estridge said. “I’m getting a lot of good feedback from them, they like it, and it’s really -- they’re seeing exactly what they see in the classroom.”
Estridge says there’s a lot of good content on the Internet explaining chemistry, but she knows her students, and what they need. Now, she and another chemistry teacher are figuring out how to record videos of chemical reactions.
Using Virtual Reality To Teach Emerging Technology
We heard from teachers about their many adaptations, and some hesitations, but certainly some teachers are really diving in and getting excited about this time as a new frontier in learning.
Steven King is a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, and that is basically his job. King teaches in the UNC Reese Innovation Lab at the Hussman School of Media and Journalism. Through funding for his joint appointment at the journalism school and the Kenan-Flagler School of Business, King managed to get 28 virtual reality headsets for his students, who now meet in a virtual classroom.
“We could interact and talk and share and break out into small groups and do our class the way we do it in a real person classroom... but do it in a virtual space,” King said.
Professor King’s virtual classroom vaguely resembles his lab in the basement of the journalism school, but he and his students look different. King chose an avatar for himself so he looks like the superhero Iron Man. Students’ avatars can walk around the room and interact, in a way that’s kind of a mix of reality and fantasy.
King can conjure up 3D objects to the scene that he uses to mark teams for group work. Students caught on to this too, as one student pulled out a giant cheeseburger.
"Then they walked over and said, 'Here, would you like a cheeseburger?' and handed it to another student," King recalled, chuckling at the visual absurdity. "In virtual reality, it felt like a five foot cheeseburger!"
While that might be a goofy example, Professor King says it illustrates what he loves about his virtual classroom: His students act the same way they do in a regular classroom. They have real, open conversations in a way that’s not as natural on video chats.
So what happens if this is not the only quarantine? King said he’s not qualified to predict how long classes will remain remote, but he does have some conclusions to draw.
“I think as a society, we need to plan to be able to work this way,” King said. “This has pretty much jump-started the idea of remote work.”
King says however long social distancing measures last, this time period in our lives will have a significant impact on the future of work and the field of education.
Those are some big thoughts about what this could mean for all of us.
Correction: The name of the UNC Reese Innovation Lab was previously incorrectly stated as the UNC Emerging Technology Lab, its prior name until January 2020.