During our last Virtual Learning Day, I came up with a few observations and tips that potentially can help others with their online teaching and learning practice. First off, all schools should participate, or hold a virtual learning day, as it gives everyone in the learning community an opportunity to practice and to become familiar with the tools and procedures. If a school for whatever reason needs to closed down for one or more days, having everyone prepared will save time and make the experience better. There are many reasons why schools might have to close down, from weather, communicable disease outbreaks to terrorism. Be prepared is better than not. There are many tools available for use in a virtual learning day. For a class that is not needing direct live contact with students, the tools available that are multi-functional as well as designed for students include Google and Microsoft Classrooms, Moodle, and Edmodo to name a few of the more popular offerings. All of the mentioned online learning platforms are adequate for non-live interactions with students. If face to face interactions are needed there are two very strong offerings, Google Hangouts and Microsoft’s Skype. Both allow for multiple concurrent connections and both are cross-platform ensuring all students regardless of device can connect even if they have to borrow a device. The main strength of both is the ability to share screens as well as files with all participants making both an ideal solution for remote teaching. Both options allow for multiple students to connect, but they both have a limit. It’s usually not wise to have too many students connected at once as it creates a bandwidth bottleneck thereby degrading the quality of audio. A great strategy is to allow students a range of time to connect for one on one, or small group discussions. Also, turning off video helps conserve bandwidth as well. I recommend training and requiring students to enable the chat feature, which helps students with bad audio situations as well as it allows for a backchannel discussion. The back channel can help guide the discussion as students can post questions while the live discussion is happening. Finally, training students how to use their device for live video use is recommended. Take time in class to have them practice before the online session to make sure the audio and video settings are correct. Also, informing them about ambient noise and light will make the experience much more fruitful and less frustrating. Allowing students to sign up for a time slot is helpful, but also have students try to connect early on in your planned day leaving time in the end for those students who miss the initial connection time. When working with live video there are many obstacles and pitfalls that can prevent a student and teacher from connecting, leaving a buffer of time for emergency connections is wise. With all the free tools available, and the added potential for live remote learning perhaps it’s time for schools to not only use it for emergency situations, but for extending the classroom for other opportunities such as class trips to a more functional flipped classroom!
Which tablet is the best?