As school systems get into a more typical rhythm of in-person learning, some are holding onto or expanding aspects of remote learning that revealed unexpected benefits during the pandemic.
The St. Vrain Valley School District in Longmont, Colorado, is launching a program that opens certain advanced courses to high school students, some of whom are taking the classes remotely.
In this first year, the AGILE (Advanced Global Innovative Learning Environments) program offers French 4, micro/macro economics, Advanced Placement art history and computer science. While the teachers of these courses lead in-person lessons, 30 other students from other campuses will attend remotely using software and hardware such as cameras and microphones from Webex by Cisco.
Michelle Bourgeois, St. Vrain Valley's chief technology officer, said the ability to include students from different campuses remotely in the lessons is helping provide "equity of opportunity." The first day of the school year was Wednesday.
"We still believe in great in-person instruction. This is just an opportunity to supplement and to give our kids just even more chances to find their passion and find their future."
Chief technology officer for St. Vrain Valley School District
The 33,000-student district covers 411 square miles, and it can take 45 minutes to drive from one end of the district to the other, Bourgeois said. In the past, students who wanted to take specific courses only offered at certain schools would need to be transported to a different campus and back to their home school, she said.
"Our vision and philosophy is that geography shouldn't limit opportunity," Bourgeois said.
The program is maximizing instructional time. It also is creating opportunities for master teachers to serve as mentors and co-teachers to novice and new-to-course teachers, she said.
For instance, Bourgeois said there are a few teachers interested in teaching computer science but want more support before they take the lead in the classroom. The AGILE program lets those interested teachers learn about the curriculum and observe the more experienced teacher, she said.
"The experienced teacher gets to share some of her insight and some of her strategies, while the new teacher will bring some energy and some new ideas, as well," Bourgeois said. "So it gives us a chance to, again, build up our teaching force in ways that I think are going to benefit us."
Virtual learning platforms and learning management systems saw a boom in demand when COVID-19 caused school campuses to close in spring 2020. Teachers used synchronous platforms, such as Zoom, Google Hangout, Webex and Blackboard Collaborate to connect virtually with students in real time.
Virtual meeting options can also benefit school-family relationships by giving more flexibility on how and when to meet, according to parent and educator focus groups coordinated by the UChicago Consortium on School Research.
The capabilities can even extend to allowing students to watch a recording of a class to review concepts from the lesson or attend a pep rally or play hosted at different campuses, said Mary Schlegelmilch, Cisco education manager and former elementary principal and district administrator.
In St. Vrain Valley, Bourgeois said the district will measure student engagement and academic progress during this "readiness year" of AGILE with hopes of expanding its virtual class catalog and potentially offering classes to out-of-district students. The district is also looking at ways to strengthen connections between classmates who are in-person and those who are remote, she said.
"We still believe in great in-person instruction," Bourgeois said. "This is just an opportunity to supplement and to give our kids just even more chances to find their passion and find their future."