Western faculty, alums working to reinvent parts of the K-12 educational experience as students remain at home

by Jordan Van Beek
Office of University Communications intern
  • Angie Kyle in her empty classroom
    WWU alumna Angie Kyle surveys her empty classroom at Post Middle School in Arlington. Kyle continues to work to try to find new and innovative ways to connect with her students during the pandemic.

With K-12 and higher education classrooms on hiatus due to COVID-19, students are having to adapt to online learning. As students try to find the best way to learn virtually, professors and teachers are having to adapt and find new ways to connect with their students.

WWU Assistant Professor Caroline Hardin, who teaches in both Western's Computer Science Department and the Science, Math and Technology Education (SMATE) program, has had to balance creating an interactive class while also meeting the needs of students who don’t have access to the internet at home.

“While all my lectures are held at class time and I respond to students' questions and comments which they post in the chat room, everything is also recorded in five to 20 minute chunks and posted to YouTube for streaming, as well as posted to Canvas for easy downloading,” Hardin said. “I also release slides, worksheets, and other supplemental materials.”

Hardin also mentioned how she utilizes platforms such as Piazza, a free online gathering place where students can ask, answer, and explore 24/7, under the guidance of their instructors, to quickly answer general questions about the class. She is able to detect and reach students quickly due to having low stakes, open notes quizzes twice a week to help keep up with the content. Hardin mentioned how she updated all of the assignments to be less time consuming, as well.

While acknowledging that online classes are much different than in-person classes, Hardin says it doesn’t have to be a worse experience.

“So many people love watching streamers and YouTube stars create videos and interact while presenting content, so I was thinking about what made those videos fun and relatable where recorded lectures seemed stuffy and boring,” Hardin said.

Hardin has invested in a green screen, a high-quality microphone and lighting while figuring out how to use multiple windows and tabs up while keeping her face in the frame. She noted that many streamers put a lot of effort into their personal appearance with their hair, makeup and clothes.

“I wanted to do whatever I could to make the class experience good for the students - even if it meant learning how to do contouring makeup so the lectures looked like the digital media they most enjoyed interacting with,” Hardin said. “I don't connect it to the lesson, like many instructional design decisions, I haven't explicitly discussed it with the class. They did notice my effort to make the class feel more like a high quality streaming channel. They were joking the first day 'where is the subscribe button?’”

Hardin is unsure if she will utilize the same technology once classes resume to in-person, but says it’s always great to learn new skills and that it’s fun to learn new ways to improve her professional appearance, even though it does take a lot of time to do the makeup right.

Angie Kyle, a Western graduate and current middle school STEM teacher at Post Middle School in Arlington, also has used a variety of different resources to give the best learning experience to her students.

“We already use Google Classroom and Google apps like slides, docs and forms. I use YouTube, Nearpod, Flocabulary, BrainPop, and other sources for digital resources,” Kyle said. “Teachers Pay Teachers is a great place to start if you're looking for resources. It can be spendy though, so always look for free resources first.”

She also films videos each week for her students and uses applications like WeVideo to create and put the video together, saying it is super user friendly. Kyle created a teacher Instagram account, @Mrs.Kyle.Science, about a year and half ago and also created a teacher TikTok to connect with other teachers. Though she didn’t really create itfor students, her students have found it and followed the accounts. She also recognizes the issues that come with using things like social media.

“As of right now, I don't really use my social media to connect with students,” Kyle said. “I'm open to the idea because I think it can be really powerful and effective, but there are so many issues and concerns that can arise from social media interactions with students, that I'm very careful to follow the district and union guidelines.”

Using social media to connect with other teachers has helped Kyle learn so much about different types of education.

“I have connected with teachers all over the world and learned so much more about education globally,” Kyle said. “I think we get so locked into ‘how things have always been’ that we don't realize how differently things could be done. We don't have to maintain the status quo. Change is good. I've been so inspired by teachers that I've never met in person, but would still call them my friends.”

Filming demo videos for students has always been a plan of Kyle’s, but it’s always been on the back burner. Remote teaching has given her that push to make these videos. The videos are helpful for students who are absent or struggling.

“I've posted [the videos] to my YouTube account, but then my son informed me that I was filming with my camera in the wrong direction, vertical rather than horizontal,” Kyle said. “I just keep learning new things everyday. Also, they are definitely not of the professional level, just me doing my science thing.”

In times of a pandemic and when people are forced to do remote learning and teaching, it gives us a deeper look into how schools are changing and how to find the true meaning of a class.

“Content is available in so many different mediums these days, classes aren't about the PowerPoint slides full of content, they're about personal connection and mentoring and creating community,” Hardin said. “That means attending to students' socio-emotional needs. It's so easy to get caught up in what technical tool to use, but what does each tool add to the learning experience? In these challenging times, we need to continually iterate on our strategies, and be willing to laugh at ourselves when we forget to unmute ourselves at the start of class or can't get the powerpoint to show. We can't take ourselves too seriously, there's already too much stress to go around. Finding ways to connect with students through popular culture and humor is a great way to make virtual classes less stuffy.”

Throughout not only the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to be willing to accept change and to keep moving forward.

“I would say to not be afraid to meet this challenge head on,” Kyle said. “This is an opportunity to grow as a person and as a teacher. It's an opportunity to challenge ourselves and the status quo. Try new tools and resources. Rethink and reimagine what education can look like. And also, it's okay to be frustrated, overwhelmed and lacking motivation at times. Just keep pushing forward. It's what we always tell our students: without failure there is no growth and also, you are enough.”

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Monday, July 20, 2020 - 12:41pm

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