Virtual Commonwealth Classes and Learning
Commonwealth’s extraordinary teachers adapted our rigorous curriculum to the online format in light of the pandemic, and they have been iterating on their classroom successes ever since to ensure students receive the caliber of instruction that defines a Commonwealth education. For the 2020-2021 academic year, we plan to offer concurrent classes, with a combination of students who are physically in the classroom and online simultaneously.
Remote classes are taught in the Virtual Commonwealth “building” via a personalized overlay onto the Zoom platform.
Teachers use our existing systems—Gmail and parts of the Google educational suite such as Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Classroom, and Google Hangouts—to communicate lessons and expectations. In advance of each lesson, teachers provide students with any necessary instructions, links, and learning materials. We encourage students to reach out to their teachers proactively if they have questions or an assignment is unclear. In addition, teachers may set up office hours during a set period or arrange for remote conversations with students as needed or desired.
Lessons themselves can take many forms, and teachers will use a range of tools and techniques to facilitate learning and interaction. To gain a sense of the type of learning activities students will experience during remote learning lessons, here are three possible examples:
- Example 1: At the start of a biology class, students click on the teacher’s “room” in Virtual Commonwealth. After welcoming the students, the teacher engages them in a discussion of a homework assignment that students completed individually, asynchronously. During the discussion, students pose questions and share their work with the teacher and with each other electronically (using the “chat” function). Before the end of the period, students take a two-question Google Form quiz that will allow the teacher to assess their understanding.
- Example 2: During a synchronous math class, students are tasked with working in pairs on a data analysis project—small groups can work together in a “breakout room.” At the start of the class period, each pair undertakes the work on a Google Doc or Sheet, which is also shared with the teacher. The teacher monitors the work of the pairs throughout the period. The lesson that follows tasks each pair with finishing the data analysis project asynchronously, so each pair schedules a mutually convenient time to complete that lesson before the next synchronous meeting with the class as a whole.
- Example 3: Students begin an asynchronous history lesson at a time of their choosing by consulting materials the teacher has posted on Google Drive. There, they find a link to a primary source, and they are tasked with posting two questions about it. They are also tasked with reviewing notes and developing a thesis in preparation for writing an open-book essay that they will complete individually and then discuss as a class during the subsequent synchronous class session.
Though we continue to develop experiential learning opportunities befitting a socially distant world, many have already been adapted to the virtual format. In the spring of 2020, biology classes, for example, covered evolution and population biology using online simulators and paper labs. Other supplemental learning activities include group problem-solving, online simulations, and interactive videos. Some teachers have conducted scientific inquiry at home as well, such as using polarized sunglasses to do some experiments with light. Most art classes also adjusted their curricula as needed; the sculpture students, as another example, made works with found objects.
Commonwealth students have also engaged in community service, research, and other traditionally “hands-on” experiences to great effect in virtual formats. We anticipate a proliferation of future opportunities as well, conducted online and possibly in person, as organizations adjust to the unique demands of remote and socially distant work environments.