EHS pilots virtual substitutes

How EHS has utilized technology to foster learning during the absence of a teacher

Reagan Stanchfield, staff writer

When comparing a regular teacher and a substitute, each has their own benefits. When the teacher is present, the class is more efficient, whereas substitute teachers bring a new energy into a classroom that can be beneficial to many students.  

Edina High School’s new program of virtual substitutes allows students to experience both. EHS is implementing a system to pilot virtual substitutes, a procedure that allows teachers to email an assignment to students, who are then expected to complete it during class. Mr. Cullison, an AP Economics teacher, volunteered to participate in the trial and was one of the first teachers in the school to use a virtual substitute. “I’ve got a combination of older, mature students and a robust online presence. So, if there’s any class for which this will work, it would be AP Econ,” Cullison said.

Mr. Cullison is currently discovering different advantages for this type of classroom experience, both for himself and for his students. “[The feedback] was overwhelmingly positive, which didn’t surprise me. I don’t think they’d want to do it every day, but for a change of pace every once in a while, they enjoyed it,” Cullison said. Another advantage with a virtual sub is that students are able to work in collaborative spaces rather than in their usual classroom.

While the students’ work was virtually the same, the teacher’s workload may experience changes. With a traditional substitute, attendance can be taken quickly at the start of the class. However, with a virtual sub, Mr. Cullison had to check the students’ work and the time at which it was completed to ensure that the students were present during the class, a process which took much longer and had to be completed outside of class.

The elimination of a substitute also allowed for easier and more direct communication. “Whenever I have a message to a sub, I don’t have that face-to-face, so I have to be much more explicit: I have stuff about if there’s a problem here is the teacher to go see, here’s how you take attendance and all this stuff,” Cullison said. Despite this change, the workload seemed to even out in the end.

Mr. Cullison’s AP Econ students seemed to appreciate the new method of substitution. “With a virtual sub, you just know what you are supposed to do without them taking the time to explain it to you,” sophomore Maggie Randall said. For students, it could save them time by not having to communicate with an unfamiliar teacher. Assignment completion was tracked, which gave students the incentive to finish the work. “It was in people’s best interest to do it because there were other penalties, such as getting a zero on an assignment and being marked absent,” Randall said.

Although this approach to teacher substitution is still being developed and refined, it seems to benefit both students and teachers, eliciting a trend of positive reactions. However, the use of traditional subs will likely still be required. Substitute teachers devote time and effort to those situations where a hands-on approach is required. Mr. Cullison believes that they create a unique classroom environment that cannot be replicated with a virtual sub. “There are times when it is best to have a substitute in the room for a variety of reasons. There are some activities that you just can’t translate as easily,” Cullison said.