Mercy Rudolph, an English. teacher at Dos Pueblos, uses her laptop computer to talk students in the first online class she’s ever conducted. She taught the class from her dining room.  (Courtesy photo)

High schools students and teachers in the Santa Barbara Unified School District broke from the traditional form of classroom education and entered the virtual world on Wednesday.

The campuses at Santa Barbara High, San Marcos and Dos Pueblos remained closed due to the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic, but classes were back in session via teleconferencing. The schools were ordered closed March 13 and an already scheduled Spring Break followed, March 23-27.

Teachers and students are using the online meeting platform Zoom to conduct classes.

Shawn Carey, assistant superintendent of secondary education in the district, was instrumental in the planning and training for the virtual classes.

“People are working very hard,” she said. “Though we respected Spring Break for teachers as the much-needed break it always is, we did push out training opportunities the week before, and professional learning opportunities are varied and ongoing since our ‘return’ this past Monday.”

She noted the district is still working through the tactical needs of “hands-on” courses like construction technology, theater arts and science labs.

“Overall, we are feeling very inspired by and appreciative of the dedication and professionalism of the Santa Barbara Unified workforce,” Carey said.

Noozhawk reached out to some teachers to get their reaction on conducting a virtual class.

Here’s recap of how it went on the first day:

»On where they taught Wednesday

Mike Moran, AP World History and International Bacculaurete History at Dos Pueblos: “I did my teaching today in a guest bedroom.”

Ben Rudolph, Mercy’s husband, conducts his Dos Pueblos online class from a guestroom in their house.

Ben Rudolph, Mercy’s husband, conducts his Dos Pueblos online class from a guestroom in their house. (Courtesy photo)

Jarrod Bradley, Physics at San Marcos: “I taught class from my front yard in Goleta.”

Paul Forster, English, AP Language at Santa Barbara High: “As my internet at home could not handle Zoom well and all my teaching materials are in my class, I taught from my classroom. It’s nice and quiet down at the school, there’s a few other teachers coming and going and the maintenance staff… very peaceful.”

Mercy Rudolph, English 9, AP Literature at DP: “I taught from my dining room table while my husband, Ben, who’s also a teacher, taught from our guest room. Our house is tiny, so we closed all the doors and even hung a curtain in the hallway to between us try to block sound from each other’s classes.”

Stephanie Rivera, Chemistry at Santa Barbara High: “In good weather, I will be holding Zoom meetings with the students from my backyard deck, my bunny yard, or any number of outdoor niches we have, with all of my pets around me (dog, two cats, a conure and two bunnies).  I will be performing labs live or making videos of them from my lab on campus.”

»On student attendance

Moran: “Attendance was normal. I had all my students (33 and 31 in the two classes) connect to our first Zoom meeting. We met for about 45-40 minutes in each class.”

Mike Gerken, English at Dos Pueblos: “Very good, about 85% were on the Zoom meeting we had.” He has two classes of 37 and 35 students, respectively.

Robin Selzler, English at Dos Pueblos: “I only had one student absent, though granted I have a small group of students (13 in total). And she sent me an email later in the day, so they are all accounted for. This small number is very unusual, since the other half of my job is running peer tutoring programs with the Charger.Academy, a collaboration with the DP Entrepreneurship Club, who built the website for our tutors to use.”

Forster: “I had about 20 kids in each class, so about 70 percent, and many other kids were emailing or signing in late as they figured things out. So, I think next time I teach I will be up to more like 80 or 90 percent.”

Rivera: “Everyone showed up today except for two people, and I hope it is due to connectivity issues, and not health issues! I will be reaching out to those two over the weekend. I had one student who was clearly sick in bed and nursing a cup of tea and even an exchange student ZOOMing in from Munich, Germany. Amazing! I was blown away!”

»On the awkwardness of going to online teaching

Rivera: “The only truly awkward part of the first meeting with the students was the bad connectivity in my neighborhood which resulted in ‘package delays’ that robbed me of the ability to mute everyone at once! When you have 35-plus folks in a meeting with all of their chatter and background noises, things can get a bit chaotic. We worked it out. Everyone eventually agreed to self-mute until they had a question or comment. Cox, have mercy on us all. Beef up that bandwidth, please!

“I gotta say, I learned a lot about my students from our first meeting and I am impressed by their resilience… and secret love of our educational institution!”

Bradley: “There were few glitches other than a short internet outage with COX but we were able to reconnect within a minute. While it is nowhere near as effective as in-person instruction, where I can listen to student voices and see their work, our meeting was effective and meaningful. We had fun and students appeared engaged.”

Moran: “It was different as I have not done online learning before. A little awkward, but it was really great to see all of my students and get a chance to talk to them again.”

Gerken: “First time I’ve taught a class online. Not much awkwardness except a few kids (were) under their covers still and the fact that I had to look at my own face on the screen as I was talking. Feeling a lot more sympathetic to any student who sits in the front row of my classroom. Minor awkwardness as related to manipulating the medium.”

Selzler: “It was actually really fun to just see everyone.  It was awkward to be so clumsy with the technology, but the kids were amazingly patient and persistent and helpful.”

Forster: “It wasn’t awkward, definitely different. This is all new. I’ve never taught online before, very steep learning curve, but the other staff members have been super supportive and helpful, and the kids are so tech savvy they helped me and helped each other.”

Rudolph: “I’d never taught an online class before and, honestly, was quite nervous about the potential for awkwardness. That said, the classes didn’t end up feeling awkward at all (at least for me!), in part because I had a solid agenda and system for the class, but in part because students were just so excited to see each other and participate in the conversation.”

»On the reaction from the students

Moran: “They were mostly all smiles and happy to see each other. A lot of students said they are bored at home and looking forward to doing school again.”

Gerken: “I think they were glad to see each others’ faces. There wasn’t a ton of interaction between the students —a few excited hellos and such — but the high numbers of attendees speaks to their need to connect to something other than a video game or a Netflix show.”

Selzler: “I think it is going to get old eventually, but right now it feels really novel and kind of exciting.”

Forster: “I think they loved seeing and hearing each other and being connected. They were full of life and excitement and many of them immediately got creative and used stuffed animals and other silly things in the camera while they were talking.  My students are very creative and very quick to find ways to make each other laugh.”

»On changes to their teaching approach

Moran: “The biggest change is doing Zoom meetings for class and creating screencast videos of my computer. Students are still doing the same reading and notes, will work on the same writing skills and we will use Zoom to do small group discussion. I still need to figure out the next best step in creating an online learning environment where students can still practice communication, collaboration and critical thinking with each other.”

Gerken: “I’m working hard at becoming more technologically proficient as the new method of delivery demands. Going 100% paperless is also new, but not as hard of a transition. A benefit, I suppose, is that I can give almost instantaneous feedback as assignments come in online.”

Selzler: “Oh man. I’m trying to keep as many of the course elements as I can the same, since there are SO MANY other changes afoot. But I’ve been learning to make screencasts, and giving my bilingual aide a workout translating all the written resources and messages I’m sending that normally we would just explain in class.

“We are also just trimming down. I think less is more in all of this. I’m excited to see how kids become more independent as learners. So far, they seem pretty curious.  We’ll be growing the ‘figure-it-out’ part of their brains!”

Forster: “This is all very new, so that is hard to answer right now, but this will certainly be a change. I’ll certainly be lecturing less and offering more online assignments.

“My overall takeaway was that the kids were happy to see each other, even if it was in digital land. When you are in Zoom and hit “gallery view,” your screen looks like the Brady Bunch. It’s kind of silly and funny, and I left the microphone function on so they could all talk to each other. I was happy to see them and it was good to have some structure and some connection.  Also, as an English teacher, I am able to assign writing and so many of the kids have already turned in amazing reflective writing about this experience.”

Rivera: “We will likely be making changes all along the way to adjust for what we learn every week about our students. Clearly we cannot complete the scope of content and lab experiences we had planned for the fourth quarter, however, we will get some good learning done after this first week of struggling with the new context and online venue.”

Rudolph: “The main change is that I’ve had to learn how to use a lot of new technology tools really quickly. I’ve made six instructional YouTube videos in the last six days, for example, a process which required me to learn how to use Screencast-o-Matic, iMovie, GarageBand, Edpuzzle, and plenty of other tech tools. I’ve also felt that I’ve had more of a license to: 1, collaborate with my colleagues and 2, prioritize supporting students’ social and emotional needs than ever before. Although I, of course, wish that COVID-19 had never taken place, I’m thankful that this situation is pushing me and my colleagues to innovate and evolve our teaching methods in ways that will stick with us long after our society and schools have returned to normal.”

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.