When it comes to education technology, it is commonly understood that pedagogy drives adoption, not the other way around. Ultimately, new technology should complement and augment teaching, not hinder it. This is particularly true in K-12 schools, where, especially among younger students, teaching is more interactive, visual, and demonstrative.
The Covid-19 pandemic challenged educators’ notions of pedagogy and technology, especially when schools closed, and teachers were tasked with engaging students from their laptops at home. Out of necessity, technology drove pedagogy. But as schools re-opened and hybrid education was embraced, educators saw an opportunity to adopt communications technology that better fit the way class is taught.
That was the case at Marymount Cuernavaca, 30 miles south of Mexico City. In 2020, after months of remote learning, the K-12 Catholic school, part of the global network of schools founded by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary, planned to welcome back teachers and roughly half of students for hybrid in-person/remote learning. Administrators and faculty knew laptop computers and webcams would not be good enough for the way Marymount teachers wanted to engage students.
So the school, with two campuses in the city of Cuernavaca serving almost 600 students, hired local integration firm Orange Tech AVA working with technology distributor Neocenter SA de CV to install Konftel Cam20 4K Conference Cameras in every classroom and learning lab. The goal was to seamlessly integrate remote students with the in-person learning experience while enabling teachers to teach as they had before the pandemic.
“Our technology department urged us to invest in this type of solution and our Board of Directors had the vision to see that this hybrid model could have a very positive impact,” explains Martha Tajonar Miranda, General Director of Marymount Cuernavaca. “We have been very pleased with the results and are happy to know that we’re serving our community well.”
Putting Remote Students in the Middle of Learning
Classrooms in Marymount Cuernavaca schools tend to be spacious. Most include whiteboards or smart displays. The challenge, then, to creating the ideal hybrid learning experience, was a camera platform that could not only take in a wide field of view but also do so at a very high resolution so remote learners could see clearly what teachers were presenting.
“It was a challenge at first to divide our attention and blend the half of students who were at home with the half who were in the class, but the Konftel cameras made it possible,” says Jonathan Bowles, teacher and Academic Director at Marymount Cuernavaca.
The Konftel Cam20 offers a 123-degree field of view so remote learners can see everything, including their teachers at the front of the classroom and multiple whiteboards or displays. From their laptop at home, it’s like they’re sitting in the classroom itself. In addition, the Konftel Cam20 features 4K resolution and 8X digital zoom so what they’re seeing is crystal clear.
“The picture is very detailed, and we don’t lose any of the quality when we zoom in or out or use one of the presets the camera offers,” Bowles says. “In my classroom, I can use the Konftel remote control to focus on one corner of a whiteboard, then go to a completely different view of my other whiteboard and the at-home students see exactly what they need to see.”
Plus, Bowles and other teachers are free to move around the front of the classroom just as they would when all students were learning in person. That’s because Orange Tech AVA took care to install the technology so that it supported teachers’ preferred pedagogy.
An Integrated Solution That Teachers Can Use Easily
In all, Orange Tech AVA installed 42 Konftel Cam20 solutions across the two campuses. To create the most natural hybrid experience, the integrator hung 32-inch flat-panel displays from ceiling mounts at the optimal distance from the front of each classroom. A Konftel Cam20 camera was attached below each display at roughly eye level with most teachers, while extended high-speed USB cables were routed through the mount and ceiling so they could attach to each teacher’s PC at the front of the class.
The display serves as the teacher’s confidence monitor, showing what remote students are seeing while allowing the teacher to monitor who is learning online. A Bluetooth headset, communicating via a USB dongle in the PC, allows the teacher to address with in-person and remote students while moving freely around the classroom.
“It was important to the school that we be able to offer a complete solution and that all the components worked seamlessly together,” says Isaac Sedano Hernández, Director Comercial for Orange Tech AVA. “It couldn’t be difficult for teachers to connect to the system and start class. The Cam20 just works and works well with all the other components of the turnkey solution.”
Erika Franco, a coordinator of the school’s technology department, prepared easy-to-follow documentation so teachers would learn quickly how to begin hybrid teaching. Within just a few weeks, she says, teachers had gotten used to the Konftel solution.
Remote Connections for More Than K-12 Students
When all the cameras had been installed in early 2021, Marymount Cuernavaca conducted a pilot. The school got dispensation from the Mexican government to have some students in classrooms one day a week in May so they and teachers could try out the system. It was a success. Today, the hybrid learning solution looks exactly like it did during the pilot.
“Most students are in the classroom now, but we still hold remote learning for everyone one day each week,” explains Tajonar Miranda. “The teachers still teach from the classroom so it’s natural for them. And we will continue with the system because there are times when students can’t come to school, but they should be able to have the same experience.”
Tajonar Miranda says she uses the Konftel system for parent conferences and meetings with other members of the community. The school even has a program for newborns. Some parents bring their babies to class, but others join remotely.
“It’s fascinating how the technology helps our staff interact with those babies in their homes,” she says. “They start listening to the music and the teachers and immediately respond. Being able to connect like this allows us to help students of all kinds everywhere, not just Cuernavaca.”