With the COVID-19 pandemic in full force, many local schools and districts have adopted a hybrid learning approach where groups of students attend class either virtually or physically during different days of the week. The most common approach has students in one letter group (usually last names starting with A-L) attend physically on Mondays and Tuesdays with the other letter group (last names starting with M-Z) attending remotely during those days. After custodians clean classrooms and other common spaces, the letter groups switch, so that the M-Z group attends physically on Thursdays and Fridays, while their A-L classmates attend virtually.
Although the intent is to provide diverse opportunities for learning while still maintaining social distancing guidelines, this hybrid approach creates two disparate groups: The Roomers and The Zoomers. I wish I could take credit for the terms, but I heard this Roomer/Zoomer distinction from a teacher enrolled in one of my graduate classes. As he described it, The Roomers are those students who engage with their teacher and classmates in the face-to-face learning environment on their respective days. The Zoomers are those students who engage through Zoom on their assigned days. While most students spend some days as a Roomer and other days as a Zoomer, the teacher’s assessment was clear: The Zoomers are getting the raw end of the deal. In his observations, the Roomers are able to engage in rich classroom experiences while the Zoomers usually passively watch.
In response to this teacher’s assessment, I thought I’d offer some suggestions to bridge the Roomer/Zoomer divide and to make the learning experience rich for both groups of students.
- Engage both groups via technology. With tools like Kahoot, Nearpod, Classkick and Pear Deck, a teacher can create a common experience where Roomers and Zoomers engage with their classmates and their teacher in similar ways. A teacher can simultaneously project the technology in the face-to-face classroom while sharing the screen via Zoom while students engage through the smartphones, laptops or tablets.
- Foster collaboration across groups. Since teachers and students must maintain social distancing guidelines in face-to-face classrooms, many small group activities are being abandoned, but they don’t have to be. Teachers could create break-out rooms in Zoom where Roomers and Zoomers collaborate together. For example, a think/pair/share activity could pair a Zoomer with a Roomer in a break-out room. After having a few minutes of small group discussion, either student could present to the larger group.
- Plan for different modes of interaction. Rather than focusing just on the students in the physical classroom, teachers could plan to engage both groups initially before giving the Roomers and Zoomers different tasks best suited to their respective learning environment. Maybe the Roomers are given a physical task to be completed in class while the Zoomers engage with a related activity online.
- Utilize help. Lots of classrooms benefit from the expertise and support of teacher’s aides, student teachers, interns and co-teachers. These individuals could play a role with engaging the Zoomers or Roomers strategically, based on the day’s activities and lessons. Maybe a student teacher parallel teaches a lesson tailored to the students in the Zoom environment while their cooperating teacher is teaching a similar lesson to the students in the face-to-face classroom. This way, both groups receive rich learning experiences that draw on the affordances of the respective environments.
These are just a few ideas to bridge the Roomer/Zoomer divide. If you have some other strategies, feel free to comment below.