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Hybrid from Home: What to Do When Teachers Are Remote, Students in Classrooms

Gilbert Public Schools classroom
(Image credit: Gilbert Public Schools)

In a lot of ways, Gilbert Public Schools came into this current remote learning era ahead of the game, tech-wise. This district of 32,000 students, located in a suburb of Phoenix, was already set with 1:1 devices for their seventh- through twelfth-grade learners, and their elementary program had enough tech to sign out to any younger learner who needed one. 

However, in terms of hybrid or mixed learning modes, they had been looking for an all-in-one unit that could be mounted in the front of the classroom and still had the mic technology to pick up students in the entire room. 

“We wanted to stay away from mics hanging from the ceiling or having to press a mic button to speak,” says Jon Castelhano, Gilbert’s executive director of technology. “We had some unique classroom configurations.” One of the more challenging classroom environments was where the teachers were remote and the students are present in the classroom. 

“These teachers had typical sound issues with being able to hear the students,” Castelhano reports. 

To address this, the district piloted a Nureva HDL300 system. This audio system, designed for classrooms, captures the audio of everything happening in the classroom so the teachers at home can clearly hear what the students are saying during class. The system installs in minutes, and its plug-and-play connectivity and auto-calibration makes setup simple. 

“One of the participating teachers told us, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s like night and day! I can hear ALL of the students with no muffle at all and there are zero echoes. We can actually have a conversation, whereas before it was me just talking at them.’ And that is no way to teach or learn,” reports Castelhano.

Gilbert Public Schools classroom

(Image credit: Gilbert Public Schools)

Strategy for Best Learning Outcomes

“We made the decision to provide synchronous learning for our students when in virtual, and now hybrid, mode as we transition back to in-person,” Castelhano says. “We did not feel the learning experience of just placing students in an online learning program and checking in every few days was best for their learning. Synchronous online teaching was the best model for student engagement, continued relationship building, and engagement for our students and families.” 

Combining a good LMS and online curricular content with the teachers delivering synchronous instruction, whether in person or remote, and being able to seamlessly communicate with students regardless of their physical presence, created an engaging environment.

Challenges and Solutions

Even though most students had the devices they needed for remote and hybrid learning, the classrooms were in a different situation with the AV equipment, and not set up for true distance learning. 

“If we had a device like the Nureva system in every classroom, we could entertain different options for students present or remote, truly opening up the distance learning scenarios,” says Castelhano. “We knew if there was a great product that combined mics and speakers and could truly work in a large classroom, that the teachers participating in the pilot would have the missing pieces for communicating remotely with their students.” 

The teacher is still the magic that creates the learning opportunities in the classroom and they need the tools to help make that easier for them,” says Castelhano. “A device like the Nureva system makes it easier for them to not be concerned if they are being heard or if they are hearing all of their students. It lets them focus on what matters.” 

"Has the Nureva system affected my teaching? Absolutely! It has been a game-changer,” says International Baccalaureate Biology teacher Katherine Powell, who is teaching her students from home while they are in the classroom. “Besides being able to walk around now, I feel like I am back in my classroom! Discussion is how I teach and this has allowed me to do that again."

Sascha Zuger

Sascha has nearly two decades of experience as a freelance journalist writing for national magazines, including The Washington Post, LA Times, Christian Science Monitor, National Geographic Traveler, and others. She writes about education, travel and culinary topics.