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General Colorado Center Information Independence Training Program

Walking the Virtual Halls at CCB

A mostly black-and-white screen shot of the Zoom app, showing Breakout Rooms in Progress
As soon as we finish morning announcements in the main room, staff and students move to one of the seven breakout rooms: Braille, Cane Travel, Home Management, Brett’s lab, Chip’s Lab, Tech Lab or Study Lab. At 11:15 we all meet again in the main room for philosophy class.

Moving out of your virtual classroom into the main “lobby,” you could very easily run into a classmate or another instructor, identifiable by their name in the participants list. Not by their video image, however, because of course class time, even remotely, is sleep shade time, too. Still, you might unmute yourself and exchange a few words before choosing your next classroom from the list of breakout rooms.

The final three weeks of classes at CCB for 2020 were virtual, as are these first two weeks of 2021. Since Thanksgiving, we held regular classes on the Zoom platform, but doing so in a way that only became possible with the addition of a new feature this fall.

At risk of turning this into a Zoom advertisement, the new feature that allows participants to move themselves from breakout room to breakout room made the three-week stretch prior to the holiday break (and these initial two-weeks of 2021) feel much more like going to class at the center than we were able to accomplish during the spring COVID-19 shutdown. We have announcements at 8:30, students and instructors move to their classrooms, and there you are – in class with your teacher and fellow students. When that class ends, you leave and go to your next class after a short break. It’s all done on the app.

Of course, with all this Zooming you need a break, need to get up and walk around, get a cup of coffee or a drink of water on a regular basis. Prior to this self-propelling feature, participants could go into breakout rooms only if they were individually assigned by the host or the rooms were randomly divided by the app itself. So, this new feature definitely came along just in time.

As COVID-19 numbers rose sharply in the fall and holidays approached, we scheduled a planning day for Friday afternoon, November 5. The idea for instructors was to develop three weeks of lesson plans – just in case.

Just in case. (here, I hear the refrain of the Gilligan’s Island theme in my head: “A three-hour tour.”)

The week before Thanksgiving became a watershed. COVID-19 numbers were spiking, and we had several brushes with the virus at the center, with staff members or family members testing positive, some getting sick. Some could trace how they got infected, but several family members couldn’t. Luckily, everyone recovered, and we hadno spread at the center.

With some students wanting to travel for Thanksgiving, we realized that we would need to either test everyone on return, or quarantine students at the apartments for two weeks after Thanksgiving. With testing arrangements up in the air and With only three weeks between the Thanksgiving break and the Holiday break, it didn’t make sense to go through all the trouble and expense for students to travel back for what would be just five days of in-person training. So, we issued laptops (fortuitously donated early in 2020( to students who didn’t have a computer and students either went home for turkey and stayed home, or stayed in our apartments. Six students remained, and those students left for the two-week holiday Friday, December 18.

Students returned on January 3 and 4, and virtual classes started January 5. We are quarantined again, but have arranged testing for Monday, January 11 at our apartments. We expect to get those testing results before the end of the week, and plan to return to the center and in-person training no later than January 18. Thanks to Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment and Tri-County Health for assistance in arranging testing and planning a safe return.

Yes, it was a strange end to a strange year – No tree in the meeting room, no holiday decorations, no baking of goodies. And no Secret Santa or visits to the City of Littleton, Littleton Police or Station 12 firefighters with treats and thank-yous. (We missed seeing all of you!)

Still, we are all well, back in session and carrying on with learning – we are moving forward. We look forward to a holiday celebration of some kind in January when staff and students can all return to in-person learning. This old building needs the voices of students and staff ringing down its halls – even with masks and social distancing!

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