Flat Screen TVs, Microsoft Teams help teachers, students in new hybrid learning model


Brian Lee

Cathedral Prep faculty and staff journeyed into the unknown this school year in search of a way to teach students safely amidst COVID-19. On the other side, they were met with 72-inch flat screen TVs, panoramic cameras, and handheld microphones. Adjusting to a remote learning environment required a great amount of thought and an even greater amount of bandwidth.

The Prep-Villa Technology Team began meeting towards the end of April with administration to discuss what the 2020-2021 school year was going to look like. Mrs. Cambra, an Information Technology Specialist at Prep, gave some insight into the her department’s responsibilities.

“We were tasked with coming up with a solution that would allow students at home to receive the same experience as the students in class,” she said. “I think we were excited to be a part of this challenge, but a little nervous about getting everything in place in time.”

With the school year starting in a short six months, time was definitely of the essence when trying to develop an entirely new way of learning.

Through “a ton of research and [attending] several meetings,” the decision was made to use Microsoft Teams as the foundation of remote learning for the 2020-2021 school year.

Once the appropriate software was chosen, the technological advances took place. In every classroom, each teacher was equipped with a 72-inch flat screen TV (including a panoramic camera) and a “hub” dashboard to control it all. Students learning from home are displayed on the TV in real-time through Microsoft Teams meetings (as pictured below). Teachers are responsible for organizing these class meetings according to Prep’s 8-period bell schedule and inviting remote learners to participate from their dining room tables.

Mr. Awungnkeng demonstrates the new technology at Cathedral Prep

Faculty began training for the upcoming school year in July. Mrs. Quinn, a teacher from the mathematics department and member of the new technology planning committee has been involved in the planning process from the teacher side.

“We had two meetings during the summer, where we learned about the technology and the hub, the device that sits at the front of the classroom. The rest was pretty much self-directed,” she said. Microsoft has a bunch of training modules that we were all recommended to watch.”

Mrs. Quinn continued to develop her familiarity with the new system after this.

“I personally went and did a lot more research on my own because they wanted to appoint people to help train the other faculty,” she explained. As a result, she is generally recognized as the teacher most proficient with using Microsoft Teams.

Although, not all faculty members were as comfortable with the new software as Mrs. Quinn. Mr. Achille, a teacher who has been employed at Cathedral Prep for over 40 years, found the new tools to be overwhelming.

“I’m not gonna lie. [Adapting to the new technology] hasn’t been easy at all,” Mr. Achille (pictured below) said. “It is getting better for me, but every now and then there’s a glitch about something. And of course when that happens I hit the panic button… I don’t work for the GeekSquad at Best Buy.”

Mr. Achille teaches his socially distant class of freshmen

Some common glitches he and other teachers have experienced so far are cameras not working, the inability to see the board clearly, and general connectivity issues.

Although both faculty and staff can agree that remote learning isn’t ideal, they can also agree on how fortunate Prep is to have the advanced technology it does. Mr. Achille weighed in on the matter.

“I do honestly think what we have at Prep, all things considered, is pretty good,” Mr. Achille said. “I don’t think any other school districts in our area have what we have.”

Relative to other school districts in the area, Cathedral Prep does prove to have the most advanced remote learning system.

Cathedral Prep staff and faculty are eager to see what the rest of the school year will bring. Though obstacles may be faced, a major one has definitely been avoided through the proactive measures taken to equip classrooms with the necessary technology for the Ramblers to succeed.