Hopkins has switched to virtual classes for the final quarter of the school year.
Since Tuesday, March 24, all classes have taken place online via Zoom, a video conferencing platform that schools and businesses across the nation are using to communicate during the coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore, Hopkins has implemented a revised schedule; each course meets only twice a week, with no class meetings on Wednesdays. To compensate for the lost class time, each teacher may assign four hours of out-of-class work per week for Upper School courses and 3 hours per week for Junior School courses. Additionally, in many classes, assessments are being administered outside of class time, without a proctor.
According to “Bringing the Hill Home,” Hopkins began preparing for remote learning during the 2009 H1N1 Swine Flu; since then, it has switched to cloud-based services such as the Google Suite for Education and introduced a new learning management system. Head of School Kai Bynum assembled a task force to handle the current COVID-19 outbreak at the start of the calendar year after Modern Language Department Chair Lan Lin provided an inside perspective regarding Wuhan’s conditions. Key members of the effort included the Technology Department, which purchased Zoom licensing for all faculty, staff, and students, and Director of Academic Technology Ben Taylor, who guided faculty in reconstructing curriculums to accommodate the new format of virtual schooling.
As a result of this comprehensive planning, some students are able to appreciate the lack of disruption to their academics. Clara Goulding ’21 notes that she “[doesn’t] think [her] education is hindered” by the adjustment. She continued, “I give the Hopkins teachers and tech department [credit] (particularly the legend Mr. Taylor!) for adapting so quickly. The Hopkins faculty has definitely exceeded my expectations in that sense.” Zoe Smith ’21 agrees: “I was very happy to hear from all of my teachers that we would still be learning all of the material that was planned to be covered, despite our obvious disconnect, changed grade policy, reduced class time, and canceled final exams. While the new changes require hours in front of a computer, I am so grateful that even though the world is in chaos, I still have a rock.”
Prairie Resch ’21 believes that the “willingness of [her] teachers to be flexible and available and forgiving” has, in part, made the transition easier for her. “There's a strong attitude of ‘we're all in this together’ and I know the change is as tough for them, if not more so, than it is for the students.” She elaborated about the adaptability in her class, Furniture as Sculpture, Sculpture as Furniture, which typically consists of basic furniture making and woodworking. “We've switched to a more art-analysis class rather than a hands-on one. We're still doing small projects (models and what not) with materials we can find at home, but it's largely an online class at this point,” Resch said.
Classics teacher Kate Horsley, who typically “like[s] to do a lot more active stuff in the classroom,” touched on how she has had to change her teaching style. She has been using Breakout Rooms in Zoom so students can work together on finding derivatives and doing readings. She recalled one particular activity: “[I gave my students] new Latin words and they had to write a short story using those words. I could be on a shared Google Doc, giving them suggestions or answering questions while they were writing it.” For Horsley, extra help and meetings outside of class have been “much more satisfying in terms of getting to interact with students and really answer questions and talk. It’s a lot harder to do that in a classroom synchronously with all the kids.”
Horsley also changed how she administers assessments, which are now open book and open note. She shares a Google Doc with her students who then make a copy of it in which they write their answers. She explained her distinct approach: “It’s a different way of demonstrating that they understand what they’re doing. My emphasis is on students showing that they understand how to read something and that they connect with it and that they’re connecting with the Latin language itself.”
Spanish teacher Susan Bennitt benefits from EdPuzzle, a platform through which teachers can make interactive videos. “As a Spanish teacher, you need to be able to tell [a story], so I’m glad I know my way around a computer to make the most of it and to help me with resources like Edpuzzle which open up endless possibilities. Anything that’s on YouTube can be uploaded into a lesson you design with quiz or open ended questions, and students can do their own narrations as well, which helps with progress in speaking. I’m so proud of my students for working as hard now as they always do, and I’m very comfortable saying that we’ll hit all our goals this year.”
Some community members are finding the switch to Zoom classes more difficult, especially due to unstable Wi-Fi connections and disruptive background noise. Ella Zuse ’21 stated: “While I really like how in a lot of classes we’ll talk about the fun things we do at home or good experiences we’ve had recently to connect as a class, one thing I find challenging is how it is difficult to have class discussions without talking over people because of the technology. There is just a slight awkwardness because of the pauses while people try to talk.”
Students also seem to struggle with adjusting to the disruption to their schedules. While she believes the new school schedule is “well-designed,” Resch commented: “I am mostly struggling with adjusting to a more self-disciplined schedule when I'm stuck at home. I've been trying to maintain my usual patterns (working out when I would usually have practice, playing guitar every morning like I always do), but it's hard to be productive when every day feels the same.” Goulding is facing similar troubles: “The hardest thing for me is probably staying motivated, but I’ve set up a sort of ‘schedule’ for myself every day (what time I wake up/go to sleep, when I do my homework, meal times, etc.), which helps.”
To acknowledge the uncertain circumstances, Hopkins adopted a new “grade-brace” policy. Students’ second term grades can, generally, only improve–not decline–from their March midterms. If a student is disengaged, however, “ the Head Adviser will initiate communication with the student, as well as the student’s parents, adviser, and the School’s Clinical Psychologist,” according to Bynum’s April 8 email. Smith is satisfied with the grade-bracing policy, saying, “I am very happy with the new grade policy. Unlike switching to pass or fail, it still encourages students to learn and try to improve their quarter three grades.”
While the change to Zoom classes is a considerable shift for everyone, the Hopkins community is putting in effort and energy to make this new system work. Director of Technology D. J. Plante stated, “I'm proud of what we've accomplished. This is a big change for faculty, as well as for students, and I've been in this field long enough to fully understand that change scares people.” He concluded that “[online classes] can be great for creating a tighter community.”
Students and faculty alike, though, are embracing the silver linings of this new schooling format. Goulding believes that “as Hopkins students, we are used to being busy all the time, but maybe this slowness is good for our mental health (and our sleep).” Plante added, “I've met several pets and children that I wouldn't have otherwise met if it weren't for online classes and meetings. There's a certain vulnerability that you have to be willing to have with online classes and meetings. You're letting someone into your home each time and you're vulnerable to all the imperfections that go along with it.”