Westfield Public Schools Q&A

4 min read

Teachers and school districts across the world are having to address the challenge of migrating from classroom learning to distance learning. Many are looking at ways that technology can ease the transition and encourage remote collaboration with students to best replicate the in-class experience. Panasonic recently caught up with Kevin Morse, Science Department Content Area Director and grades 10-12 Chemistry & Physics Teacher at Westfield Washington Schools in Westfield, Indiana to discuss his transition to remote learning, which included the adoption of Panasonic’s AW-HN38H PTZ camera for live streaming chemistry lessons. 

1.  What was the reason behind implementing remote learning? 
I teach two levels of chemistry at Westfield Washington Schools. A regular course for grades 10-12 and advanced placement (AP) chemistry for grades 11-12. Even before COVID-19 and the current social distancing measures, I had created content for distance learning for my advanced courses, which helped me to be more prepared when the mid-March closure of our school district forced teachers and all classes to quickly transition to remote learning for all forms of instruction. As a result, I was teaching two different courses remotely while simultaneously creating content for both. We had 7 weeks of school to finish, with the goal of all students earning credits for the courses they had started. 

2.  Can you describe your setup and transition a little further?
As my school district transitioned unexpectedly to remote learning, it was important that we provided options for asynchronous learning to create an environment in which differences in access to technology, family needs, and work schedules were minimized. At the beginning of the transition, I offered one hour-long live Zoom sessions per course each week to supplement online assignments. I also recorded short "selfie" videos to maintain the personal connection with students giving daily or weekly updates, telling jokes, attempting to motivate, and giving them insight into my family’s quarantine experience. Many were recorded and shared with the entire class, but I also recorded personalized videos for every student to respond to their specific learning and personal needs. 

3. What devices did you use to assist learning? 
To facilitate different assignments, I used a variety of tools. Initially, I used my phone to record experiments and the built-in webcam on my computer for videos. The webcam continued to be the easiest tool for small picture-in-picture video accompanying the screencasts, but once I received the AW-HN38H PTZ camera and controller from Panasonic, I was free to be more creative with my videos and lessons. The camera gave me more freedom in Zoom sessions to transition between face-to-face conversations and practicing problems on a small whiteboard that I brought home from school. This eliminated the awkwardness of positioning of my laptop while hoping to show multiple things at once.

4. How did the PTZ camera impact your ability to teach remotely? 
The Panasonic PTZ camera was most helpful when creating the videos for experiments. Performing chemistry experiments at home in my dining room was a challenge. Being able to program camera angles, zoom in and out easily, and record in high quality allowed me to give students a detailed look at the process and results of the experiments. The ability to create pre-sets for all the different shots I needed was also a huge help as it let me seamlessly transition through the experiment steps without needing a specific script or timing. I could easily click from one shot to the next when they came up during a video call or during a recorded lesson. Rather than being tied to videos I could find on YouTube, I had free range over what to do and how to show it. I was able to perform the same experiments we would do at school and showcase them in a way the students could understand and learn from.

5. How did you keep remote learning fresh as quarantine continued? 
Each week, I created several lessons to provide new instruction and practice content. Many of the teaching lessons were a narrated screencast with various online practice assignments. I also created new practice assignments and assessments over the topics. As a chemistry teacher, it was important to include experiments and demonstrations to illustrate the concepts we were learning. Each week, I created at least one lab-based experience with videos to watch and follow-up questions.
6.  Are you preparing for the potential of teaching remotely after summer break and how do you imagine remote learning being used in the future (even after social distancing)? 
Not knowing what the fall will look like is a big challenge for teachers, but the successes from the past several months have given many of us confidence and fresh ideas. It shows that students at all levels are able to engage with well-designed lessons via remote learning. I see how video lessons can allow for learning at home, allowing in-class time to be practice and student-led work. I see how labs can be replicated on a video to allow absent students to experience an experiment in a meaningful way or to show something new when time is tight. I see how online assessments can give a chance for growth at a more personalized pace.