The current state of the world has dramatically changed how educators deliver lessons and interact with their students. Because the traditional in-person classroom is suddenly, and at least temporarily, a high-risk environment for virus transmission, virtual alternatives such as video conferencing have received renewed attention for learning.
Running a virtual classroom is not inherently easy. For many students and instructors, distance learning is a major adjustment and very different from how they normally operate. What can teachers do to make the new experience as accessible and productive as possible for everyone involved? Let’s look at five basic tips for getting started.
1) Create guidelines for video conferencing use
First things first: Select one video conferencing platform and stick to it. With numerous options out there, it’s easy for participants to become accustomed to a certain feature set, even if it’s not the easiest one to use or the most secure. Conversely, jumping between different platforms on a regular basis can be disorienting and productivity-draining. Settling on a single platform is ideal.
Some jurisdictions have already drawn up lists of video conferencing platforms deemed acceptable for K-12 educational use. Check these guidelines first. If nothing is currently recommended, evaluate the widely available options for performance, security, and ease of use, and select an option that students can easily access.
From there, the next steps involve setting more granular policies on how the video solution should be used, including guidance for faculty and students on:
- Use cases for group as well as one-on-one scenarios.
- The expected time commitment each day or week.
- Any requirements for attire or background imagery.
- Rules on recording and distributing the session afterward.
2) Take all feasible security precautions
Video conference solutions have become more prominent targets of cyberattacks over time. This trend makes sense, considering the rising usage of these platforms and the sensitive data often exchanged on them, including in educational contexts.
One common form of video conference-oriented attack is for someone to join a meeting with a public meeting ID and no security controls, and then proceed to disrupt the call. Fortunately, there are some reliable precautions for preventing these scenarios:
- First, do not share a meeting ID, PIN, or other key identifying piece of information on a public forum, such as social media or a personal email account, if possible.
- Require a password every meeting. Some platforms may provide automatic password enforcement for certain types of joining, but make sure you cover all possible routes.
- Get familiar with meeting controls. For example, if someone is introducing a lot of background noise or otherwise disrupting the session, know how to mute their audio.
- Make sure the platform itself has adequate built-in security capabilities, such as end-to-end encryption and reliance on well-secured data centers.
3) Be careful with recording in particular and privacy in general
Remote learning via video conference brings the classroom directly into students’ homes, which has big implications for their privacy. Students and their parents/guardians should have the ability to opt out of being recorded or on camera. Moreover, it may be prudent to record conversations only when students have their own audio muted and video turned off.
Done properly, recording a lesson can be useful for helping students return to classroom materials later on, such as when preparing for an exam or doing an assignment. On Webex, you can also edit your recording before distributing it, to make it more engaging and easier to follow.
4) Follow meeting etiquette and encourage students to do the same
Running a smooth video conference takes some practice, especially in the context of a K-12 virtual classroom in which students are still adjusting to online learning. The best practices for each instructor and their classes will vary, but a few generally reliable tips include:
- Lock the video focus on the instructor so that it doesn’t change when someone else becomes the active speaker.
- Encourage participants to go on mute when not speaking, or mute them yourself if they don’t know how.
- Use headphones or earbuds with a built-in microphone to improve audio quality.
- Allow attendees to turn off their cameras (and show them how) if they don’t need video at the moment.
5) Take advantage of other features for collaboration
Video conferencing platforms are much more than ways to see other meeting participants on camera. They also come with high-quality audio (via VoIP, which is crisper than a traditional phone call) and features such as instant messaging and screen sharing.
It’s important to know how to leverage these capabilities without letting them distract students and detract from the meeting’s focus. Screen sharing in particular can be helpful for keeping everyone engaged – you can show a slide presentation or other document, play videos and animations, or conduct a walkthrough of a key workflow on screen.
Video-led learning is still in its early days overall. Gradually, K-12 educators will likely come up with more uniform best practices for how to effectively reach students, respect their privacy, and provide meaningful instruction even outside a conventional classroom environment.
Cisco Webex can be a central piece in the tele-education puzzle. Learn more by getting started with a free offer today.
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