Interactive Tools Help to Better Engage Students in Hybrid Learning

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Student engagement has always been a top challenge for educators, one that has been exacerbated in this new blended learning environment.

For decades, educators have been literally turning their backs on students in order to write on a chalkboard or whiteboard at the front of the classroom. Or instructors always had the option of turning down the lights and writing on the projector glass to make the content attainable to a larger group.

Already a barrier to keeping students engaged, the pandemic hit in-person education in a way that made it necessary to project information not only in front of a classroom but also via virtual screens. San Diego State University physics professor Matt Anderson was looking to solve these problems when he partnered with ed technology company Pathways to develop eGlass.

What at first glance seems like a transparent whiteboard, is actually a sophisticated piece of technology that offers ease to navigating the new world of hybrid education. In other words, picture a compilation of light board crossed with a camera and an interactive computer screen, and that’s eGlass.

EGlass was launched this month and uses a transparent, glowing writing surface with an embedded camera, so that what is being written by the teacher on the board is simultaneously routed via camera to students’ computer screens. The software, developed by Ji Shen, CEO and founder of Pathway, was first unveiled at ISTI 2021.

According to a study published in Psychology Today, student engagement does in fact drop when teachers turn their backs and lose eye contact with students, which ultimately can impact students’ retention of information.

So, the eGlass creators knew that developing technology to keep student and teacher eye contact was important. Thus far, early testers of eGlass have reported that the tool has been especially helpful during the pandemic, when teachers are struggling to keep students engaged on video calls.

Marcia Kish, a blended learning specialist and founder of DSD Professional Development is a former teacher and immediately sees the potential of the technology for all levels of education from college and below.  As a learning coach, Kish has been working with hybrid high schools for 12 years, long before they became necessary due to the pandemic. 

 “Hybrid teaching is not going away—eGlass bridges the gap so teachers can interact with both their virtual and on-site students,” Kish said.

Kish said she immediately “fell in love with this [eGlass].” And during COVID, there have been extra benefits. First, the write-on plexiglass material allows a teacher to stand behind the screen and write notes, while keeping a safe distance from students. Second, the product is easier for engaging virtual students during hybrid learning as opposed to trying to engage online learners using a camera set up in the back of the physical classroom.

Kish said that eGlass is great tool for teaching any age level, from kindergarten through higher education. In addition, she sees the technology as a great way to not only do whole-group lessons, but useful for smaller, break-out groups as well.

Kish does note that when directing teachers who are lesson planning with eGlass, she helps them to create a balance of time with and without screens.  

Finally, while it does not take much time to set up the technology, Kish says that most teachers will want time to play around with and learn all of the capabilities of the tool. And her sister’s biggest gripe…the space eGlass takes up on her desk.  

Thus far, a few individuals and school systems have signed on to get eGlass, but Kish is confident that once the product gets in the hands of the teachers, there will be great buzz around it.

Though she understands the gravity of the pandemic, Kish also recognizes the global impact as the “kick in the butt but we needed make an educational shift.” She believes administrators and teachers know that technology like eGlass will be important in the future.