Technology enables 2 Blount Co. high schools to share 1 teacher

Technology enables 2 Blount County high schools to share 1 teacher

Heritage High School sociology teacher Jared Smith has found a way to be in two places at once. Heritage High School sociology teacher Jared Smith has found a way to be in two places at once.

6 News Education Reporter

MARYVILLE (WATE) - Students at two Blount County high schools are sharing one teacher and one classroom, even though they're miles apart. The idea is to offer classes that aren't available at both schools already.

Heritage High School sociology teacher Jared Smith has found a way to be in two places at once, virtually. He's teaching Heritage and William Blount High School students at the same time.

"I had no idea what to expect," said Smith about the distance learning program he helped pilot. "It's been fun. It's been different, but it does create new challenges because you have two very different groups at two completely different schools who are rivals. You have to find a way to get them to come together as one class."

It's the same technology business leaders are using all over the world. This distance learning class is a first for Blount County, and the first time William Blount students have been offered a sociology class.

William Blount senior Luis Gonzales said, "At first it was a little weird. You're watching a teacher, and you don't get that experience where he's there and you can interact with him and talk to him, you know, without the whole class."

But things are more comfortable now on both sides. Gonzales and Smith agree that the William Blount students are even more vocal than those at Heritage, who are in the same room with their teacher.

"I've never taken a video conferencing class before. I think it works pretty well. I mean, you get to hear everybody's different comments and what they think," said Heritage High School sophomore Ashley Weimer.

"I guess the one teacher, the one classroom aspect of it just kind of unifies it and you forget, almost, that you're two different schools," Gonzales added.

Smith is constantly maneuvering the camera from Heritage to keep both groups of students connected. "I can zoom in on them and really make them feel like we're looking at them and that moment is for them and what they have to say," Smith explained.

With a document camera, new printer and laptops for everyone, the students don't even need pen and paper.

"So today, for instance, we had a test," Smith said. "I put the article as a brief reading, their task, they pulled it up, pulled up a word document, typed it and sent it to me via email."

Now that all the technology is in place, Blount County Schools plans to offer the sociology class again next year, and they're exploring other classes which would be good candidates for  distance learning.

A First to the Top grant paid for three video conferencing systems in Blount County, totaling about $80,000.

In addition to the two schools, the central office also has a system. School officials say the technology is also being used for professional development and to conduct principal meetings.

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