November 22, 2016
Imagine being taught by a hologram. A projection of your teacher stands in front of the class–you can see and hear her teaching, but she is not really there. Students in Ms. Liu’s sixth period Chinese class have a similar experience. Their teacher is not in the Atholton classroom, but rather is live broadcasted to multiple Howard County schools from Reservoir High.
“We are not only interacting with the students face-to-face in one school location, but also we have live streaming for all other schools. So for example we have students who are here with me, and we also have River Hill, Glenelg, Marriotts Ridge; everybody would call in from the TV, but they’re live,” said Ms. Liu, who has taught Chinese for seven years.
This class is involved in the Distance Learning program, which began in Howard County last year and allows one teacher to teach to multiple classrooms across the county. The classrooms can all see each other in real time using large television screens.
The necessity for Distance Learning arose when one of Atholton’s feeder middle schools offered Chinese 1, but Atholton only offered Spanish, Latin, and French as language options, so student who wanted to continue Chinese had to start a whole new language in order to earn their mandatory 2 language credits. However, Distance Learning expands the horizons of which languages students can take.
“Over the past couple years, World Languages has been shifting towards being able to offer students as many languages as possible anyway, so the idea of a Distance Learning was something that had been kind of in the works for a while,” said Ms. Street, the head of the World Language department at Atholton.
“Over the past couple years, World Languages has been shifting towards being able to offer students as many languages as possible anyway, so the idea of a Distance Learning was something that had been kind of in the works for a while.”
Distance Learning could revolutionize the educational model in Howard County and schools nationwide, giving students who are interested in uncommonly selected courses, not just languages, the opportunity to take them, since classes can meet minimum enrollment requirements within the entire county’s population, instead of the population of a single school.
“If there was no Distance Learning, [Chinese] would not be open for class. They have to wait until there’s 20-something kids to sign up for the course in order to open a class,” said Liu. “I think it is beneficial so they don’t need to wait and they still can learn Chinese!”
However, Ben Guo, a freshman in Ms. Liu’s 6th period at Atholton, believes traditional classrooms are still more effective. In traditional classes, “you get more time with the teacher so they can instruct you,” Guo said. Whereas in Distance Learning, the teacher’s attention can be divided between the students in front of her and the students on the screen.
The classrooms without a teacher are not entirely without supervision. During sixth period, when Ms. Liu is at Reservoir, “Every department team leader has a different day that they go in and sit and watch the class. So it’s like a PIP period where every teacher has a PIP responsibility and for the five people who rotate through it replaces their PIP. Most team leaders have sixth period planning, so we just use that so once a week every instructional team leader loses one of their planning periods,” explained Street.
There are some logistical errors that occur when trying to teach across multiple schools. While Howard County high schools all operate on the same bell schedule, there are events such as assemblies and drills which can throw it off.
“There are challenges,” added Liu, “ especially when different schools have different schedules, like pep rallies or testing, and we got really messed up with the schedule. It requires a lot of flexibility for teachers and students.”
Chinese is not the only class offered through Distance Learning. Howard County currently has two other courses that operate over video: Differential Equations and AP United States History.
No one knows what the future of the classroom will look like. Maybe students will be able to watch a teacher lecture from bed, or maybe there will actually be holograms. Either way, remote learning allows for infinite possibilities, accessible at the touch of a remote.