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A teacher attending to both in-class and at-home students from a hybrid classroom at Credence High School, Dubai. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Teachers are finding it challenging to engage both students in the classroom and distance learners at the same time while live streaming lessons from school — a unique arrangement forced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As UAE schools reopened in August after months of closure under the pandemic, some students returned to the classroom while others are continuing distance learning. However, both groups are being taught at the same time in many cases, through classroom lessons that are shown live to students at home over internet video. “If you had told me a year ago that our teachers would be live streaming and teaching to two adjacent classrooms with students working from home, I would not have believed you. What we have achieved and continue to achieve truly astounds me, and our teachers are at the forefront of this, ensuring that all students continue to engage in meaningful learning experiences,” said Phil Waterworth, Primary Assistant Principal, GEMS Wellington Academy — Al Khail, Dubai.

Phil Waterworth

However, it is not easy to teach to different groups at the same time, he added. “One [challenge] which we are continuously looking to improve through our Continued Professional Development programme, is with engagement. Live streaming to two classrooms, as well as students learning remotely, is a challenge in itself, yet our teachers are regularly looking at ways to engage all learners in all lessons, so that full participation is taking place on a daily basis.” His school has over 600 students in the Early Years Foundation Stage and Primary School, with around 150 students opting for remote learning.

Learning curve for teachers

Soumya Kappaliyil, a grade two English teacher at Credence High School, Dubai, also said giving the same attention to both groups is a challenge sometimes. “I have to engage all students in learning at the same time, whether they are at home or in classroom. I think it’s a huge learning curve for all teachers,” she added. Kappaliyil has 16 classes per week, with an average of 25 per cent of her students attending face-to-face classes while the rest continue remote learning.

Tech issues can be limiting

Rania Hussein

Rania Hussein, Head of Senior School, GEMS World Academy, Dubai, said engagement is especially challenging for younger students who are distance learning. “However, good teachers are able to work in partnership with parents to ensure that students are getting the necessary support. Additionally, IT can be a limiting factor, as in the case of many schools, their IT infrastructures are not significantly developed enough to accommodate the move to blended learning. Fortunately, however, at GEMS Education we have heavily invested in IT infrastructures before the advent of distance learning, because we believe that digital and blended learning are the future of education,” she added.

GEMS World Academy can accommodate students in some grades with 50 per cent on-campus learning and 50 per cent distance learning rotation based on their house groups. Depending on the day and grade level, around 80 per cent of the school’s students are on campus, while 20 per cent are learning online.

Hybrid makes bonding hard

Shani Janisa

This hybrid or blended model makes it difficult for teachers and students to bond, said Shani Janisa, a home science teacher at Gulf Indian High School, Dubai, who teaches grade 11 and 12. “We miss seeing all our students. In a hybrid model, it is more challenging to build strong relationships between teachers and students, but with proper care and attention, a hybrid classroom can become a warm, caring community of learners. We need to approach this work with patience and a growth mindset. The hybrid classroom provides a wonderful opportunity for us, innovating to create a great environment for student learning,” she added.

Janisa has 20 classes per week, with three students in the classroom and 21 students in distance learning.

A grade 11 teacher teaches in-class students at GEMS World Academy Dubai. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

One-to-one feedback

Though adapting quickly to hybrid teaching has been difficult, it has also “helped us all become better teachers”, said Nicola Steele, head of English and senior teacher, GEMS Wellington Academy — Al Khail. “I try to find as many opportunities for the full class to work together and share ideas by using technology so that it doesn’t feel like there are two different groups of pupils. By having the pupils at home interacting regularly with the pupils in school, it helps to remind everyone that we are all one community, even when we are separated by distance,” she added.

“The biggest challenge is making sure the pupils at home get the same levels of support and time with me as the pupils in school. I make sure to plan for portions of each lesson in which I check in with the pupils at home and give them one-to-one support and feedback.”