My, how far we've come! When Brooks kicked off the school's first distance learning plan back in March as the coronavirus outbreak transformed into a pandemic, online classes were a new experience for Brooks teachers and students.
Today, as Brooksians look ahead to the August 31 start of a new academic year with part of the student body in classes on campus and part learning online at home, the faculty have become old hands at meeting the challenges of different modes of learning, engaging students from afar and creating fresh ways to stay connected. It's a confidence they earned this spring — and cemented in summer.
"PLANNING" FOR SUCCESS
Dean of Academic Affairs Susanna Waters spoke to the adjustment of going fully online back in April. "There is opportunity in crisis and, wow, are we innovating!" she said. "We have been thoughtfully planning but also experimenting with what approaches, from schedule to tech platforms, can best help us deliver on our school mission." At the time, she also noted, "We are planning for the 2020-2021 academic year, and with more time, training and experience, can more skillfully shift to being online teachers and learners, should the need arise."
Brooks' spring 2020 distance-learning plan, for a fully-remote student body, involved connecting synchronously (with teachers and students online in Google Meet and using tools including Google Docs, Slides and Sheets to collaborate remotely) and asynchronously (with self-directed learning). Every online class was recorded, and the video made accessible to each student in the class.
Take a peek at what that looked like with a view inside of the World History, Spanish and art classes that Amy Del Cid '22 joined from home: Watch the video.
"My favorite part of distance learning has been my synchronous classes," Del Cid recalled of the spring curriculum. "I enjoy getting to see my classmates and teachers, even if it's through a computer screen!"
After the first couple of weeks, feedback prompted administrators to fine-tune the plan. "The two biggest lessons we learned out of the gates were that homework on top of asynchronous learning plans was overwhelming and led to too much screen time, and that we needed to thoughtfully consider the role of equity in academic performance as it relates to grading," said Waters. "We abandoned the concept of homework and reframed all academic engagement as coursework. With one synchronous class and three asynchronous lesson plans, all approximately 50-minutes long, we were able to strike a better balance for the students."
Now for the fall, faculty have built on what they've learned and will roll out a comprehensive new Continuous Learning Plan (CLP) beginning August 31 online for all students. Concurrent classes — with on campus and online students — will begin on September 14 after boarding students move on campus September 10-12.
"We created one schedule that will offer equivalency of experience in a concurrent classroom, no matter the mode of the learners," said Waters of the plan, in which students participate in three classes per course, per week, with modest preparation of homework in advance of each course. (One of the class meetings will be a skills class with the roster split to facilitate individualized attention). "It is a reduction in cognitive load from our regular schedule," she added, "but a step up from our spring Distance Learning Plan."
To hold community-engagement opportunities intact, there are time blocks devoted to Chapel, advisory, affinity groups and school meeting.
This spring also brought students experience engaging in learning in new ways. Faculty incorporated into their teaching a variety of apps and platforms (EdPuzzle, Flipgrid, Loom and Padlet among others) to enhance learning online. Dean Waters said, teachers "worked incredibly hard to design unique learning opportunities, and students took advantage of them."
The educators brought the outside world in, too. Many invited alumni and other professionals to join class and afternoon activity zoom meetings, share their expertise and answer student questions. One example: Peter Dunn '82, P'11, P'13, P'15, P'18, vice president, perioperative services and healthcare systems engineering at Massachusetts General Hospital briefed Brooks' investment club on COVID-19 and the lasting changes that may come out of the pandemic, such as telemedicine. Another: Professional musician Bruce Katz joined Advanced Jazz Band and played some music for students (see below).
Finding fresh ways to keep the student community connected while physically separated offered opportunity that everyone embraced. Time-honored traditions adopted a new form, with Chapels and ceremonies including Cum Laude Society Induction (see below), Afternoon Activities Awards and even Commencement conducted virtually.
Still more offerings were created especially for students to bring them closer during this time.
Head of School John Packard started each week with a video message and campus-news update to students on Mondays. And during each sunrise this distanced spring, every member of campus was greeted with a new "Good morning!" video message from a different member of the Brooks community — including teachers, staff and fellow students — via email.
This theme of fostering togetherness continued right on through the summer, with Brooks Summer Session, offering for-credit classes, and Brooks Connects, free enrichment activities from cooking to "Spreadsheeting 101."
Undoubtedly, when classes begin at the end of this month, faculty and students will employ even more innovative ways to enhance learning in all forms — and stay connected while apart. We'll keep you posted on how they go!
OTHER RECENT STORIES
New Summer Offerings Are Here to Stay!
Two exciting programs for students — and our community — debuted in July: Brooks Summer Session and Brooks Connects.