Students and Faculty Adjust to Hybrid Model
Through the implementation of new technology and approaches to different parts of instruction, Hopkin teachers are striving to make the most of the hybrid learning environment.
An integral part of the hybrid learning model is the Meeting Owl, which has been added to every classroom. Some tools of the Owl include smart mics, a 360° tri-speaker, and a 360° camera that tracks the current speaker. The Owl is connected to Zoom to provide virtual students with an in-class feel.
Reception of the Owl has varied from teacher to teacher. Science teacher Kellie Cox reports that the Owl is “actually working quite well!” On the other hand, Math teacher David McCord remarks that the Owl feels like “a useless appendage.” McCord elaborates, “I now just point it at the class and forget about it.” Meanwhile, fellow Math teacher Adam Sperling concludes “The Owl has been ok. I'd love to say it is amazing, but it's just ok.”
Students are experiencing difficulties from the Zoom side of things. A survey taken of Hopkins students found that the majority of students found the video quality of the Owl to be a 3 out of 5. Josie Lipcan ’24 explains, “I feel like the Owls don't really focus on the teachers, students, or on things like white boards that well.” Similarly, response to the audio quality was subpar. Zacchary Edwards ’23 states, “Aside from the teachers [...] you can barely hear anyone through the Owl.”
In addition to the Owl, many teachers are using other personal technology in order to further facilitate a normal classroom. Drama teacher Hope Hartup“[connects] an iPad on a tripod to show the class” and “[her] phone on another tripod just for [her] face.” In his English and Video courses, teacher Ian Melchinger employs the use of “two webcams on separate Zoom IDs” and “a studio mic and a directional movie mic, mixed together.” Laila Samuel ’23, a student of Melchinger, comments that all of the technology “really helps make the Zoom kids feel like they’re actually in the classroom.”
Despite new technology being used to simulate a normal learning environment, class work still needs to be altered. With courses meeting six times, rather than seven, in a two week cycle, teachers have less time to cover the same amount of content from previous years. Math teacher John Isaacs comments, “The core is steadfast, but the content that augments the learning is subject to change.” English teacher and Director of Community Service Alissa Davis adds, “I can see myself hitting all the same units but going into less detail.”
Social distancing in the classroom and technological barriers between cohorts are negatively impacting collaborative work. Christopher Hwa ’24 explains, “In person, everyone has to speak up to be heard through the masks and over six feet, but when everyone in the classroom does it, it makes it even harder to hear and engage.” He continues, “breakout rooms are also hard, because if you have to look at a different tab, it’s like your group isn’t even there.”
Still, teachers are coming up with new approaches to group work and discussions within and across cohorts. In Davis’ classes, for instance, students are able to go “outside so that they can actually turn to face each other in socially distanced triangles or squares.” In order for students across cohorts to work together, Orly Baum ’22 notes that “[teachers will] ask all of us to log onto zoom so we can split up into breakout rooms that way.”
In regards to assessments, more and more teachers are opting for formats other than the classic, in-class paper handout. A survey of Hopkins students found that a majority of tests are being taken via the LMS and Google Forms. Take-home tests are also becoming increasingly prevalent. The new forms do not have the usual amount of surveillance tests had in previous years. As a result, Science teacher and Director of Operations of Pathfinder Jennifer Whalen explains that "students have to place a high value on academic integrity.”
Teachers are also coming up with new opportunities to provide extra-help. McCord points out that “the schedule actually feels more conducive to extra help.” For instance, Melchinger is able to engage in “‘scholarly walks’ with students during the two-hour middle-of-day event.” For virtual students, one-on-one Zoom meetings are another option.
Despite the numerous adjustments students have had to make, the hybrid model is considered much better than a completely virtual school in their eyes. A great portion of students prefer being on campus when it comes to socialization, and similarly so for academic learning, according to a school-wide survey distributed by The Razor. Reasons for such opinions vary from staying more productive during free time, engaged during classes, and socializing more with friends at school versus inertia and “zoom fatigue” at home.
This year, instead of hanging out on the Heath couches or scrimmaging basketball in the Athletic Center, students have to adapt to the new protocols. Out of 70 responses, most student respondents report spending their free time on the Thompson Quad when they are on campus. Students are being creative with activities and new locations on campus. Examples include Sarvin Bhagwagar ’24 who heads down to the Squash center, Edwards who passes his time in the practice rooms in Thompson Hall, Madison Mettler ’21 who hangs out at the tables in Malone, and Yash DiMauro who goes to "the fields to toss some disc with they boys".
Hopkins fall traditions like Homecoming, the Female Football game, and Pumpkin Bowl are cancelled for the 2020-2021 school year. Student Council President Ella Zuse ’21 reports that the two main events being modified are Homecoming week and the Back to School Bash. In place of Homecoming, Zuse explains that “spirit week will involve normal dress up days like pajama day and maroon and grey days and [they] will also show videos made by the fall varsity sports teams in our Virtual Assemblies. Each cohort will have its own spirit week while they are on campus.” She continues on, describing the “‘Hopkins Halloween’ which will occur during whichever Friday students are on campus. They will dress up, [StuCo] will decorate Upper Heath, and have some fall activities like pumpkin painting available outside for students.” The Connecticut Food Bank Fundraiser (CFBF) will also look quite different this year, but the details are not yet determined. “It is super important to me that we maintain our partnership with the CT Food Bank as well, so I am working to arrange some virtual fundraising options with them," Zuse clarifies.
In order to try and engage students, Stu-Co is coming up with new and innovative ways to unite the different classes, and by extension Hopkins community. According to Class of 2022 President Albert Yang, students will be “seeing more and more games during free time: cornhole, kanjam, soccer tennis, etc. [StuCo] really wants to take advantage of the large chunk of time in the middle of the day, and having some fun with your peers is one way to do so”. Class of 2024 President Kian Ahmadi explains one of his most recent ideas to help get the new freshman class to socialize more with one another: “One of the things I did to try and accomplish this was to create an online event where students could get together on Zoom and play a game called Among Us.” Class of 2023, President Dev Madhavani says they are in the process of “planning an advisory Olympics, have already set up an interactive class Spotify playlist, and are coming out with some new class merch”. On October 16, 2020, “all seniors [were invited] to come to campus after school on Friday to enjoy a cookout and lawn games on the quad,” as stated by Zuse.