Originally installed to provide support for absent students, MCCSC teachers and students say the recent implementation of Microsoft Teams TVs in classrooms evokes mixed emotions and responses across the district.
Alexis Harmon, director of educational technology and communication, said MCCSC first announced in a daily email to parents at the start of the 2021-22 school year that Bloomington High School South would begin hosting Microsoft Teams meetings in class for absent students.
MCCSC installed 50 TVs that connect to Microsoft Teams last year at BHSS, 50 at Bloomington High School North, seven at Jackson Creek Middle School, two at Clear Creek Elementary School and two at the Academy for Science and Entrepreneurship. The remaining TVs were distributed at a couple other elementary schools, Harmon said.
“It was a response to ensure that students were not losing access to too much instruction and learning,” Harmon said.
Harmon said MCCSC decided to install most of the TVs in each high school to help upperclassmen earn the credits they need to graduate. The technology board thought that dual-credit and language classes could benefit from the TVs because there are a limited number of teachers available for these subjects.
The district may install TVs in more schools as they begin to observe the impact on students, Harmon said. Implementing more technology could promote the ongoing conversation about making a full education accessible.
However, because it is such a recent development, she said it will take time and practice to find the best use of the technology for students and teachers.
“There’s weariness around it too,” Harmon said. “We have teachers who love it, and we have teachers who don’t.”
While virtual participation is encouraged, Harmon said those who attend class through live sessions are still counted absent because of state regulations for attendance. Harmon described the attendance regulations as a gray area.
Harmon said the implementation of TVs costs approximately $7500 per classroom. The equipment includes a mounted TV, a security camera, a touch screen panel device, and a computer that runs the necessary software.
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BHSS seniors Adrianna Waterford and Charlie Rudd said the TVs could have been convenient at the beginning of the pandemic, but they are not helpful anymore.
They said MCCSC could have spent the money on tutoring, Wi-fi, teacher salaries or band and orchestra funding instead. Rudd said many students were confused when MCCSC first installed the TVs, but they eventually forgot about them. In fact, he said most teachers ignore them and do not encourage their use.
Waterford said her teachers have not been enthusiastic about the TVs, which have not improved their teaching in any way. They do not push or expect students to join the live sessions if they are not feeling well enough to.
Paul Farmer, Teachers Association president and district instructional coach for MCCSC, said the general sentiment among teachers towards this new technology is negative. Farmer said teachers are rarely engaging with the TVs during physics labs, art classes and tests.
“It serves no purpose whatsoever, but we’re being told we have to use it, and that doesn’t make any sense,” Farmer said.
Recording classes, he said, also raises privacy concerns for students who do not want their pictures taken and put on social media. Once each live recording is posted on Canvas, control over where it is seen diminishes because anyone could be on the other side of the screen watching.
Farmer said students are less likely to volunteer and ask questions in class if they are being recorded. The recordings also discourage students from attending class in person because they can watch the recording later, even though most do not.
TVs are forcing teachers to alter their teaching methods, he said. They cause teachers to waste time and energy trying to set up broadcasts and technology, leading them to spend less time supporting students. Farmer defines this situation as “sit and get pedagogy,” which involves getting information fed to students through lecture-style classes. He discourages teachers from reverting to this because research shows it has not worked.
However, Farmer said there are times when using the TVs is pedagogically appropriate, such as in lecture-style, language and special education classes because TVs can be helpful to go over missed content. The overarching goal should be to make the students the center of the operation.
“Technology should not drive instruction, students should,” Farmer said. “You need to ask the question, what is driving this.”
Abby Gray, BHSS Spanish teacher and World Languages department chair, said the TVs are tedious but not necessarily hard to use. She uploads recordings of every class even if no one is absent to provide additional support to students, but she does not show students on video without their consent.
“It’s saving me a lot of time explaining things when first they can watch the video, and then I can help them,” Gray said.
Gray said the technology shifts the responsibility to the students to enhance take more control over their learning experience. However, she also said many absent students do not watch the recordings, and some people are unhappy with the TVs because it seems like a lot of work.
The TVs are not equitable for all subjects because teaching styles differ, and not all teachers have TVs or the same opportunity to support absent students, Gray said.
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Lisa Parker, BHSS Calculus I and finite teacher, said the TVs are a way to adjust to changing times and help students succeed. Even though she is not yet sure if the TVs will accomplish this, she said teachers want students to get the education they deserve.
“A live interaction of a classroom is also really a good option to stay current and up to date if you’re not able to be here,” Parker said. “If we have the resources, and we have the opportunities to try, then it’s to the benefit of the student we should try.”
While some students, like BHSS senior Marin Jacobs, use the live sessions as a tool when sick, others are more like BHSS sophomore Tristan Farris, who said he did not need them or find them useful.
BHSS senior Max Arterberry said the TVs can be useful for those who are sick at home, but the attendance policy deters students from connecting.
“There’s really no incentive to go online if you are absent because you are still going to be marked as absent,” he said.