Virtual kits accommodate local and foreign students

Muskegon school partners with IT firm to bring digital classrooms everywhere.
Students at West Michigan Christian School stay connected to the classroom through virtual kits provided by NetSmart Plus. File Photo

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Students in West Michigan and overseas collectively are able to learn at the same pace at Western Michigan Christian School (WMCS) with help from a local IT company.

NetSmart Plus, a division of Applied Imaging, a managed IT services provider, collaborated with Western Michigan Christian School, a private Calvinist Christian school in Muskegon that offers middle and high school education, to develop potent technology that would keep students engaged simultaneously whether they are in the classroom or learning remotely this school year.

Mark Hill, a middle school teacher at WMCS, said conducting classes was a bit challenging when classes were transferred entirely online back in March.

“We met with kids through Zoom or Google Meet and things like that but having middle school students do that on their own was a little bit challenging, because their parents were still working,” he said. “I would create some assignments like reading and short science experiments that they were able to do at home. We did so much. It was overwhelming for me as a teacher because we were thrust into something that we were not used to doing. We are used to being very social with our kids, but we persevered as much as we could.”

As a result of the difficulty of keeping the students engaged, school officials realized they had to try something different this school year because not only is the school offering students in-person learning and remote learning for students in Michigan, there also are foreign exchange students who were supposed to participate in in-person learning. Because of the pandemic, however, they have to stay in their home countries and learn virtually.

To create an interactive classroom, Bryan Teipel, general manager for NetSmart Plus, said they worked to create a lab environment and did some trials to outfit different cameras and microphones based on each of the classrooms to ensure that audio and video were of high quality.

Teipel and his team customized “virtual kits” for each of the school’s 30 classrooms. The kits included tools such as crystal-clear wireless microphones, several cameras (one facing the whiteboard, one facing the class), projectors, stands and podiums, and mixers to make sure everything worked together.

“With the virtual learning kits, we have the opportunity to provide students who cannot be here the ability to actually be a part of the classroom. For instance, with the class microphones, I am able to talk to those students who are at home. If we are discussing force, motion and energy, I can say to one of the students, ‘Hey, what are your thoughts on this,’ and they can unmute their microphone on their end and we can actually hear them in the classroom actually talking,” Hill said. “We can actually interact with them. That is what’s exciting about this opportunity we have to offer to those students.”

Hill said about 25 to 27 students in the high school are learning virtually, some of which are foreign exchange students from Vietnam and South Korea.

“The virtual kits are all integrated in their Google classroom environment, where students can join class and they are able to view that experience,” Teipel said. “So, what it is really doing is providing a new point of view for the students. The major beneficiaries of this are the remote students.”

Although the virtual kits are proving crucial during the pandemic, Hill said the school has a long-term vision for them.

“We can offer home-school students the opportunity to potentially take AP courses with us, not having to enroll full-time here at WMCS,” he said.

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