By Kevin Steeprow
Schools are closing and for how long is anyone’s guess at this point. Many districts are looking for ways to deliver instruction online – often for the first time. Even for those with distance learning options already in place, teachers and administrators have not faced the daunting prospect to move to an all-online scenario.
There are many considerations when turning to online learning. From a technology perspective, we’ve identified three: access, delivery and engagement.
Access levels the playing field
While broadband providers are waving overage fees, increasing speeds and offering free access for new customers, students and teachers alike may not have the level of connection to make online learning smooth. Teachers need to prepare for asynchronistic instruction.
Beyond internet connectivity at the home, schools and districts need to be sure teachers have remote access to their files and lesson plans. Are there enough VPN licenses in place to support an all-remote workforce? Do they have school-issued laptops at home? Or do you need to look to a Desktop-as-a-Service option to deliver essential applications, like your LMS, to your teaching staff?
Delivery defines the learning experience
Once your infrastructure and connectivity issues are planned for, teachers will need a way to deliver assignments and students will need to access readings and course materials. Cisco WebEx is a great tool for online instruction and lectures, and the company is currently offering a 90-day free license for education institutions. The platform integrates with several learning management systems, providing for a seamless user experience. Other options include Zoom and Microsoft Teams, all providing live instruction, whiteboard and chat features. Lectures can be recorded and available to watch later.
Microsoft Teams has the added benefit of integration with Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint to enable collaboration with students and for easy grading. Teachers can set up virtual office hours and host chats with students and parents to answer questions, clarify assignments and offer additional tutoring. Schools should implement the same platform for all their teachers for consistency, and to allow for teachers to share best practices and tips.
Engaging students online requires a different set of skills, information
If students are in a classroom setting, teachers can see if they’re engaged in the discussion and call on them to participate when they aren’t. Online learning doesn’t have that same level of visibility – students could log in for roll call and tune out for the remainder of the course.
Red River can help educators leverage a cloud software solution by Vyopta, which monitors student engagement, and provides educators with attendance reports, data on student engagement and what their experience is like. Teachers can use this data to re-engage those not participating, reach out to parents for additional support or alter their delivery style to maximize engagement.
Online education can be difficult under the best scenarios, and our current state is far from a best-case scenario. However, with the right access, delivery and engagement tools in place, educators are better prepared to deliver quality instruction in a remote environment.
Kevin is the VP of Design Engineering at Red River. He has more than 25 years of experience in systems integration, collaboration, networking and technology solutions.