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Hall schools share teachers through video connections

POSTED: July 31, 2010 10:45 p.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Travis Mough, left, and Kevin Turner, both with Summit System Inc., install a video conference screen in a classroom at Flowery Branch High School.

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In Hall County schools, teachers may be in more than one place at a time this fall.

Through video conferences, some schools will share teachers for a class period. What began as a pilot program between North Hall and East Hall middle schools last year has hit systemwide — and the ideas are endless.

“Last year was an absolute phenomenal success, and this summer we’re doing the final installation in six classrooms at all the high schools,” said Aaron Turpin, Hall County Schools director of technology. “It’s high-definition and runs at 30 frames, or as fast as the human eye blinks. The audio is so quick that students at two different schools can do oral responses, which is critical for foreign language classes.”

The system is set up to support several classes per day, and this fall, high schools will combine to teach Advanced Placement statistics, Spanish 1, Spanish 2, AP Spanish, AP calculus, AP U.S. history and trigonometry.

The video conferences help cut down on personnel costs and help schools offer advanced options to students, even if only seven or eight are signed up for the class.

“We’ve got six or seven students here who want to take AP calculus, and West Hall will be the home base,” said Jeff Cooper, principal of East Hall High School. “Students are able to be served without going off site, and you don’t have to have enough students to make a class.”

The master schedules have been matched up, and school counselors have coordinated students’ schedules to make the process work. Figuring out the schedules can be tough at first, North Hall Middle School Principal Brad Brown said.

“Any scheduling changes we make, always have to keep that class in mind because schools aren’t on the same bell schedule,” he said. “For the most part, we’ve learned to do a better job to plan ahead of time. For example, if we have an assembly early in the day, we have to take that class into account.”

A video conference Chinese class with East Hall worked well “for the most part,” but as with most technology, there were a few kinks.

“Sometimes the audio part delays for a fraction of a second, and that’s a problem when you’re learning some of the sounds of a language. The technology can also get knocked offline sometimes,” he said. “It can also be bad to not have the teacher in the classroom, but the teacher would travel to East Hall sometimes so kids could interact with him. You also have to think about written work, and we would send homework through the school carrier for it to arrive the next morning.”

The technology also helped sick and homebound students tune in to classes last year.

“A student who was sick at South Hall High School was able to attend language arts class every day,” Turpin said.

The technology also will help teachers fulfill their professional learning credits despite budgets cuts and furloughs taking away their paid time to learn.

“Hall County is a long county, and this will allow our teachers to teach all day and then spend 25 minutes with their colleagues in an authentic learning environment and still make it in time to pick up their children from day care,” Turpin said.



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