Making a Shared Space for In-Person and Remote Learners
Building community in a concurrent teaching model is challenging, but collaborative learning is possible with the right virtual tools.
When her school went fully remote, Cathleen Beachboard—an eighth-grade English teacher in Fauquier County, Virginia—noticed some of her students struggling with connectivity issues. Google Meet and Zoom used up a lot of bandwidth. The call-in feature presented an optimal alternative, though she still needed her students to see what she was doing in class.
Using Google Slides, Beachboard created a digital desk for each student in her virtual classroom because she “needed a place where we can all be together.”
“I found that if a student had dial-up or they had a hot spot with a data allowance, I could keep that data use minimal if I would post the link to today’s digital classroom and then had them call in using a phone,” she says. This technique used minimal internet, and the kids were still able to communicate with each other, hear Beachboard, and see what was happening in class without having to use up all of their data.
Each desk is decorated with images that students find online to express themselves. When using breakout rooms, Beachboard pairs students together who have shared interests based on their digital desk decorations, which helps build relationships between them despite the fact that they cannot all be together in person.
She encourages students to help each other if they see another classmate struggling, promoting a sense of community and camaraderie in her classroom. “We can all be on at the same time,” Beachboard says. “And I can look at it, my students can look at it, they can look at each other’s digital desks and collaborate. It connects students who are completely virtual and the kids who are here in-person. So they still are in the same classroom.”
When her school returns to fully in-person instruction, Beachboard says she still plans on utilizing digital desks. “Digital desks are like a record book of everything that took place in class,” she explains. “If I have a student who was absent... usually absent students would really struggle. With digital desks, they’re able to look at the activities that took place and see what different groups did to really understand what happened.”
Beachboard has made an editable version of the digital desk slides available for other educators to use (requires Google sign-in to make a copy).