Ulster BOCES Gives Students Equitable Learning Opportunities During COVID-19 and Beyond with Zoom and Neat.

Neat, Jan 21, 2021

Since 1948, the Ulster Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) has provided shared educational, administrative and technical services to school districts, enabling students to prepare for employment and post-secondary education. Serving eight public school districts in Ulster County, New York, Ulster BOCES helps students meet their educational and financial goals by offering Career & Technical Education (CTE), Special Education, Professional Development and other programs and services. In doing so, Ulster BOCES can give students opportunities each district may otherwise not be able to afford independently.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020 and schools in New York shut down, Ulster BOCES knew that they’d need a robust technology solution to support remote and hybrid learning. Therefore, it was quick to adapt to radical educational changes thanks to District Superintendent Dr. Charles Khoury and Deputy Superintendent Dr. Jonah Schenker. Each was already familiar with Zoom and so began ramping up infrastructure and licensing, encouraging teachers and other staff to learn how to use Zoom effectively after their abrupt shift to remote teaching.

Quickly building a basis for online schooling

“Zoom enabled us to quickly build a foundation for online schooling, despite the pandemic,” said Dr. Khoury. “It was a platform our districts already knew inside out and were comfortable using. It helped us overcome some major barriers early into the shutdown, thanks to features like Waiting Rooms, Breakout Rooms and Virtual Backgrounds. We’ve always believed that teaching and learning should drive the technology, not the other way round, and Zoom made that possible.”

With smoother communications, Ulster BOCES’ teachers could focus purely on maintaining their relationship with students despite not being in a classroom together. Once school broke up in June, armed with lots of positive feedback, Dr. Schenker spent the summer planning the next year for Ulster BOCES. He began looking for a more integrated and immersive video hardware solution that would deliver outstanding audio and picture quality to all remote learning students – one that heralded a hybrid learning model where students could seamlessly transition between studying online and back at school.

Neat Bar provides an enhanced experience

Neat’s highly capable all-in-one device Neat Bar proved to be everything Ulster BOCES required. It gave students a crystal clear, wide-angle view of the classroom, and came with an incredibly dynamic audio range that picked up everything teachers said, whether they were sitting down at their desk, standing up, pacing around the room or facing away from the camera. Better still, it was so easy to use that teachers didn’t have to worry about learning or operating sophisticated technology. Incorporating auto-framing, Neat Bar empowered them to teach as they naturally would.

“The teachers called Neat Bar a game-changer straight away,” said Dr. Schenker. “The technology was so easy to grasp and as distraction-free as can be that they could easily adapt it to their lessons without any fuss. Using Neat Bar with Zoom thoroughly enhanced their existing remote teaching experience, making it possible for us to continue educating students more stably and predictably.”

Leveraging tech for hands-on learning

As a result, Dr. Khoury gave the go-ahead to promptly order more Neat Bars for all remaining classrooms throughout the districts Ulster BOCES manage, driving teaching and learning even further by narrowing the divide between students at home and those on school premises. Together, Neat Bar and Zoom helped Ulster BOCES give students an equitable classroom experience, particularly those who might not be able to physically return to their learning programs because of the ongoing pandemic. For example, as part of Ulster BOCES’ Career & Technical Education offerings, teachers leveraged Neat Bars along with GoPro cameras for courses that would typically be more physically hands-on. They used the two devices to look under cars during automotive labs and for showing cutting techniques in culinary classes. This approach meant students could still gain valuable insight from hands-on courses, even if they were fully remote and unable to attend a shop or lab in person.

“The combination of Zoom and Neat has allowed us to seamlessly get information out quickly, in a more comforting and human way, face-to-face,” said Dr. Khoury.

Saving time and reducing costs

Zoom and Neat also helped Ulster BOCES operate more efficiently with the numerous small to mid-sized partners it frequently teams up with as it no longer needed to send teachers to classrooms, saving time and money. They could now do everything online just as effectively, if not more. Professional development for teachers and staff became easier too. Again, reducing the cost of time and travel for training and increasing access across the board.

Regardless of what September 2021 looks like, Ulster BOCES plans to continue implementing Zoom and Neat to boost its educational programs post-pandemic. In collaboration with both, it’s already looking at ways to best capitalize on its investment by enriching and expanding its current curriculum besides enhancing staff development. Owing to the overwhelmingly positive experience teachers and students have had using Zoom with Neat Bar, Ulster BOCES has been able to maximize the instructional design of what teaching and learning could be like in the future. All of which has left them thoroughly well-prepared for hybrid learning in the new normal.