For schools across the country, one of the biggest challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic has been hybrid learning — the need to teach students both in the classroom and at home simultaneously. In some cases, hybrid learning has been necessary to meet social distancing guidelines. And in many school systems, it has been used to offer families options should they prefer their students learn from home without missing the benefits of in-person teaching.
St. Jude School, a Catholic school of 480 students, prekindergarten to 8th grade, in Elyria, Ohio, adopted new collaborative technology to enable hybrid learning, installing easy-to-use solutions from conferencing pioneer Konftel so students could attend class whether they were at home or in school.
Hybrid Learning Made Easy
When the pandemic hit the United States in March 2020, the Ohio governor mandated all schools close their doors, sending students home to learn online. In August 2020, the St. Jude School was able to open its doors again and offered two learning options to students and their families. They could choose to continue their education remotely or attend classes in-person. Either way, St. Jude School was committed to delivering a unified learning experience to hybrid classes of both remote and in-school students.
“We have approximately 75 percent of students attending daily and 25 percent choosing to learn remotely,” says Doug Hopiard, Director of IT and Integration at St. Jude School. “We wanted to accommodate and support the students and parents who chose remote learning and that’s where the Konftel solutions come in.”
Konftel delivered video conferencing solutions to enable hybrid learning in more than 25 classrooms and spaces throughout the school. Each solution includes a high-quality video camera (in some cases capable of ultra-high definition 4K resolution), an integrated Konftel speakerphone featuring the company’s unique OmniSound HD audio technology, and a Konftel OCC Hub for quickly and easily connecting everything together.
“The largest advantage Konftel offered St. Jude School is a streamlined solution with one cable that connects all devices,” Hopiard explains. “It made it very easy to install and we were able to get it up and running very quickly.”
A Single Connection is All Teachers Need
In each classroom outfitted with Konftel collaboration technology, the camera, speakerphone, and a school-provided flat-panel display connect directly to the Konftel hub, unifying system management and settings in one device. Some classrooms feature compact 32-inch displays; others have larger 65-inch models depending on the available space and layout. Teachers attach their computing platform—either their laptop or a classroom PC—to the hub via a single USB cable and launch the school’s Google Meet platform to pull in remote learners. Students working from home are shown on the attached 32- or 65-inch display and they can view in-class SMART Boards, projection screens, and more through the Konftel cameras, some of which support wide-angle viewing while others feature full pan-tilt-zoom capabilities.
“Like many schools hurrying to support hybrid remote and in-class learning, St. Jude School tried using small, personal webcams and laptops to connect with remote learners, but quickly found those setups couldn’t really capture the entire classroom,” says Peter Gasparro, the Konftel Regional Sales Director who visited the school and helped specify solutions for each learning situation.
The Konftel systems allow teachers to create up to 10 preset camera modes tailored to the learning resources in a specific classroom. The default can be a wide angle shot of the entire class, but then with the push of a button on a remote, the Konftel camera can instantly focus on a SMART Board or other display showing remote learners the same lesson their classroom peers are studying.
The St. Jude School adopted two different camera models in their learning spaces—the Konftel Cam20 and the Konftel Cam50. The former is a 4K camera capable of a 123-degree field of view, showing complete classrooms in ultrafine detail, and the latter a high-resolution 1080p camera with PTZ functionality and a 12x optical zoom.
Technology Tailored to Each Learning Space
Gasparro worked with Hopiard and the school’s team to ensure each individual learning space included the right mix of Konftel audio and video technology, tailored to each room’s size, dimensions, and layout. For example, the Konftel C2055 with its Cam20 is well suited to medium-sized classes, while the Konftel C5055Wx and its Cam50 perform well in larger classes where the PTZ video functionality comes in handy.
Gasparro and Hopiard coordinated the placement of devices in each learning space, running cables as necessary to position cameras, displays, and speakerphones for optimal coverage. In some cases, they used active, amplified USB extension cables to position cameras or audio devices in better locations.
“We also installed collaborative technology in one of the school’s multipurpose rooms, a larger space where teachers meet and have lunch,” Gasparro says.
To enable remote collaboration while maintaining in-school social distancing, the multipurpose room was outfitted with multiple Konftel conferencing solutions, daisy chained together into a unified system. In other learning spaces, the school adopted Konftel Hybrid systems, which not only facilitate collaboration over Google Meet but also support the school’s existing phone systems.
Simplification Fosters Adoption
“The one cable connection was key to helping the school integrate remote collaboration into their classrooms in a flexible, thoughtful manner,” Gasparro explains. “Teachers didn’t have to worry about plugging in multiple cables because everything was already installed and set up as the default microphone, speaker, and camera for their Google Meet classrooms. And the solution also made it possible to incorporate their touchscreen boards, projectors, and other monitors into hybrid learning lessons.”
Hopiard says teachers have had to adjust to delivering lessons simultaneously to remote and on-site students, but things are falling into place and the Konftel solutions have been a crucial enabler.
“This technology allows our teachers to connect with students at home, which in turn allows the children to receive instruction in real-time along with their classmates,” Hopiard says. “It’s been working great. The teachers, the parents, and the students at home are pleased with these enhanced learning tools…. It was so easy to set up and so far, is very easy to maintain.”