In-person & Online: 3 Useful Models for Concurrent Classrooms

Many schools have transitioned to blended learning since the pandemic started. That usually means that teachers will create in-person classes in the physical classroom and combine them with online classes, which can be synchronous (live) or asynchronous (recorded). A typical blended learning schedule would be something like:

  • Monday: Pre-recorded Online Class + Activities – Asynchronous
  • Tuesday: In-person Class
  • Wednesday: Pre-recorded Online Class + Activities – Asynchronous
  • Thursday: In-person Class
  • Friday: Live Online Class – Synchronous

Notice that the online and in-person stages take place on different days. What if they didn’t? What if some students decided to go to their physical classes whiles the others preferred to stay at home and do the class online? That’s the definition of concurrent classrooms. The online and the in-person stages happen simultaneously, which means the teacher will have a camera capturing the lesson in the classroom and broadcasting live to students at home. If you are faced with what can quickly become a logistic nightmare, this blog post is for you.

Concurrent Classrooms are not new

Despite being something unheard of by many teachers around the world, this modality of teaching is not new. It’s been mostly used in Higher Education Institutions. Some universities are known to livestream their in-person classes as to offer students more flexibility. Students who might not be able to physically attend the classes see the option of watching them from home and interact with the professor through a videoconference tool as an interesting benefit.

The University of New Hampshire has a webpage with lots of tips on how to make the concurrent classroom experience more successful. Some of tips are as follows:

  • Include the remote students in all discussions and when asking questions of the class. 
  • Consider using a poll tool that both in class and remote students can both participate in to check for understanding
  • Consider creating a separate module in your canvas course for recorded face to face sessions so remote students can easily find the materials

What about K-12 groups?

Concurrent classrooms can definitely work well with older students who know how to work more independently and can self regulate. Is the same true for Very Young Learners, Young Learners, and Teens? I think the obvious answer is no. Generally, the younger the students, the more help they’ll need to use the digital tools and to stay on task. I do have to confess that some teachers have had a more positive experience with 8-10 year olds than with 12 year olds for example.

There are ways, however, that can generate interesting results in concurrent classrooms with the little ones. We need only adapt some commonly used blended learning models and work out the logistics that makes most sense. Before we get into more detail about these models, let’s consider 3 distinct schools with their respective scenarios:

School 1: Low Autonomy – Restricted Movement – Restricted Group work

Teachers don’t have a lot of flexibility. Classes are more teacher-centered and teachers cannot monitor in-person students very effectively because they have to stay in front of the camera, which is fixed and shows only the wall behind the teacher. Teachers have an earpiece to listen to the online students’ questions, but in-person students cannot hear them. There’s normally only one device connected to the internet – a laptop – and only the teacher has access to it to check on the online students and the chatbox.

School 2: Some Autonomy – Some Movement – Some Group work

Teachers have some flexibity. They can maybe move their camera and monitor in-person students as they are working in groups. Classes are still quite teacher-centered, but online and in-person students can interact more easily since everyone can hear one another. There are only a few connected devices in the classroom, which means students have to use them in large groups or take turns

School 3: High Autonomy – Free Movement – Lots of Group work

Teachers have a lot of flexibility in terms of movement and patterns of interaction. In-person students can move almost completely independently in the classroom, which is designed as a flexible learning environment with different work stations. Classes are very student-centered and students can often take the lead and show the work they have done to the entire class. Online students can talk to in-person students through mobile devices (cell phones and tablets).

These different scenarios can vary quite a lot and some schools don’t even have a stable internet connection or devices to work with concurrent classrooms. However, let’s focus on these situations so that you can extrapolate them to best fit your reality. Let’s look at the three models, how they work and then reflect on which model goes with which scenario.

Blended Learning Models

I got the idea for these three models after doing some research on blended learning and coming across the same four models a couple of times. As you can see in the image below, there are four main models and four submodels under the first one. You can read more about them straight from the source, on WebRoom Education, Inc. and on Dr. Catlin Tucker’s great blog here

I’ll focus on the Station-Rotation Model, the Flipped-Classroom Model, and the Flex Model with some slight variations

Station-Rotation Model

In this model, students rotate in the classroom (physically) or online and go through different work stations. Each station focuses on something different. One station might require students to work on a different task, another one may change their pattern of interaction or even give access to certain resources.

Let’s think of a 5-step station rotation model:

  1. Teacher gives instructions, which can also be on the board or on a Learning Management System (LMS) such as Google Classroom
  2. Teacher moves to STATION 1, a Teacher-Led Station where students can go for further explanations or individualized feedback. Online students can do it through their cameras and microphones or via chat
  3. Students go back to their seats (in-person) and do some individual work in their books following the instructions. They can team up with peers at the end of each task to check their answers. Online students can do the same from their homes and chat on the LMS or videoconferecing tool
  4. Students move to STATION 2, an Online Work Station where they can connect to the internet and do more research or reinforce what they are learning. Online students can be responsible for directing in-person students to interesting websites they found throughout the lesson. In-person and Online students can interact at this stage
  5. Students move to STATION 3, an Offline Work Station where they can do something more hands-on. In-person students work with the results of the research they conducted and with their materials. Online students can feed the LMS or use another online collaborative tool

You must have noticed in the image above that online students go from step 1 to 3, then back to 2, and finally 4 and 5. This is a way to help teachers focus on in-person students first while online students are busy vice-versa.

Flipped Classroom Model

In this model, students can access a pre-recorded instructional video/text/audio in order to accomplish the tasks throughout the lesson. This model does not necessarily demand students to watch the instructional video before the actual lesson, as it is normally required in a truly flipped experience. They can do it during the lesson.

Here’s how this can work

  1. Teacher starts the lesson with a prompt related to the instructional task. The idea is to get students to brainstorm, discuss, reflect or simply to elicit the target language from them.
  2. Teacher gives students access to the instructional task and allows them to take notes, ask questions, and collaborate in pairs or larger groups.
  3. Students use information from instructional task to produce. In-person students can form groups and online students can do it as whole group via LMS or videoconferencing tool

This cycle can repeat a few times depending on the lesson. Also, in order to generate more interaction and figure out the challenging logistics, every time teachers ask the whole group to share their answers, they can:

  • have in-person students THINK-PAIR-SHARE while they check online students’ answers
  • have an in-person student go to the laptop and share an online student’s answer to the whole group
  • have in-person students come to the front of the camera and present their answers or correct them on the board while monitoring what online students’ comments

Flex Model

This model allows teachers to work more as guides/monitors as students follow a playlist of activities on their own and check with peers. The idea is to offer students more flexibility.

  1. Teacher gives students a playlist (it can be something written on the board or a post on the LMS). Students are required to complete most of the items on the list in the order they want
  2. Teacher walks around monitoring students, checking if they are on task, and giving them feedback. Teacher can spend a few minutes on the laptop doing the same for online students. There can be one or two whole group checkpoints to ask students how much progress they’ve made on the list and which tasks they have chosen to do so far
  3. Teacher can set up a SHOW & TELL moment for all students to share what they were able to do from the list, which tasks were too challenging, and questions they might have. Online students can work more autonomously and be recorded so that the teacher can watch later and give them feedback

This model is quite open and requires students to be self-efficacious or at least very effective control/classroom management mechanisms. This can work well if students are in a Project-Based Learning enviroment. Teachers can add to the playlist something like “10 minutes to work on your project”.

Final Considerations

If we reflect on the models and try to make them fit according to the three school types I mentioned above, I think it would look like something like this:

Station-RotationFlipped ClassroomFlex
SCHOOL 1Doesn’t work wellCan work wellDoesn’t work well
SCHOOL 2Can work wellCan work wellMight not work well
SCHOOL 3Can work wellCan work wellCan work well

For schools that do not offer freedom of movement to the teacher and the students, focus on teacher-centered lessons and make group work difficult (SCHOOL 1), the best option might be the Flipped Classroom model as the teacher can do everything from the front of the classroom. It could even work if teachers made signs with “Be Back in 2 min” or “Working with In-person Students” or something like that so that they can leave the camera for a while and help those in the classroom. It could be a brain break moment for online students and vice-versa.

School 2 might not be able to work with the Flex Model because classes are still quite teacher-centered and students might not be used to (or allowed) more autonomy. But this is the perfect school for the Station-Rotation model as the teacher can even point the camera to the different stations and use signs to identify them for the online students to see.

I believe any model works well in School 3 because they can more easily adapt to different situations and work with online students more closely. This is definitely the ideal school but I’m afraid it’s not a reality in many educational settings.

Whether you’re working in School 1, School 2, or School 3, I really hope you can give one of these models a try. Concurrent classroom are not a walk in the park, however, if you have a very good lesson plan and you can identify some stages (blocks), the logistics might not get in the way of an effective class. Remember, you can add or remove stages from the ones I proposed here and you can even find other models that might work best according to your reality. Whatever you do, I wish you the best of luck and I’d love to have you share your experiences here.

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