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Connecting In-Person and Remote Learners

Written by SmartLab

One of the best things about learning in a SmartLab is that students collaborate and create vibrant, active communities.

But what happens when some students are in the classroom and others are learning remotely?

We turned to Jon Cihlar, the SmartLab Facilitator at Arvada Senior High School in Colorado, to ask him how he’s using the Padcaster Collection to create a community between his in-person and remote learners.


Students at ASHS have the option to learn 100% online or to spend two days at school and three learning from home.

As an electives facilitator, I’m tasked with supporting both hybrid and remote learners, which can be challenging to engage in-person and remote learners simultaneously.

To support both types of learners, I started using the Padcaster Collection to broadcast what’s happening in the SmartLab to those in the virtual room. By doing this, the students feel like they’re part of the same classroom community.

High schoolers have been notoriously silent in Zoom sessions so we’re still working on norms around participation when they’re remoting in, but here’s a breakdown of the setup, some facilitation strategies, and areas where my processes can improve.

How to Set up the Space

At ASHS, we have the option to use Zoom or Google Meets. I use Zoom because it offers the option for breakout rooms, and I can sign into the same Zoom room with one account on different devices. For example, I can sign in from the facilitator Mac, the Padcaster iPad, and my mobile phone.

  1. Set up the Padcaster with the wide-angle lens.
  2. Place the Padcaster in a corner where it captures as many student stations as possible.
  3. Log in to Zoom from the facilitator’s computer, the Padcaster, and, if desired, your mobile phone. (I use my phone to project equipment like electronics or demo-ing the 3D printer.) Tip: Mute the audio on the Padcaster and phone to eliminate echoes.
  4. Use the Snowball mic at the facilitator station and adjust the setting to 3. The mic usually picks up most of what’s happening in the SmartLab, but I will often repeat or summarize the conversation if I think students missed anything.

Tips to Facilitate a Community

  • Use Zoom’s “grid view” and broadcast the session from the facilitator’s computer to the TV so in-person students can see those who are learning remotely.
  • Keep remote students’ comfort in mind by allowing them to participate without using cameras or via chat. When chats come in, read them aloud so everyone hears the comment.
  • Build in ample checks for understanding and take into account possible internet interruptions.
  • Repeat or summarize comments if someone speaks quietly or is seated far away from the mic.
  • If you leave the facilitator station, use Zoom’s “spotlight” feature to pin the Padcaster video to everyone’s feed, then remain in the Padcaster’s camera range.
  • Consider small breakout groups with a mix of in-person and at-home students. I’ve found it’s best to send the groups to breakout rooms to avoid audio feedback.
  • Share student work by wheeling the Padcaster around the room.

Areas I Want to Improve

  • I still feel like I spend more time at the facilitator station juggling Zoom windows and shared screens than circulating around the lab. I’m considering adding a mobile cart for my work laptop so that I can juggle the screens while rotating among the students.
  • It’s hard to keep remote students engaged. Many are uncomfortable sharing screens, using the camera, or unmuting because Zoom sessions can be very intrusive into one’s private living environment. I’m still working on ways to increase engagement while making sure we’re maintaining an equitable learning environment.

This approach is getting the job done and, like anything, it’s still a work in progress. Students who are learning remotely are getting the opportunity to see what the SmartLab looks like, and that’s building excitement for when we all return to in-person learning.


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