Prepared or not, high school education is now online for everything from Algebra to AP American History and Ceramics. For most school educators, this change came as a shock, but one that most are able to manage with the support of their more tech-savvy colleagues, their school’s IT support personnel and their own children and students.
While the process is easier for some courses that are text-based in the classroom, every course taught online has a diminished impact on students simply because of the loss of in-person interaction that the classroom provides. In navigating this new normal, teachers and administrators are facing the difficulty of providing content. As part of that transition, there are some technology pitfalls that could derail even the best-prepared teacher with the perfect lesson plan.
Regardless of which web-based platforms educators use to connect with their students, they are doing so on their home Internet connection and likely their home computer. And they may be sharing both with their working-at-home spouse and learning-at-home children. To make that experience better for everyone involved, there are a few things one can do to reinforce that infrastructure:
While some educators will find topic-specific platforms that will support their online teaching, almost all educators will need to use two core programs – the ability to connect interactively and a manner to share documents back and forth. The connection platforms include Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, FaceTime and Skype, while the document sharing can be done through Google Drive, OneDrive, Box, iCloud and DropBox, to name a few.
Some of these platforms are easier to navigate than others, some have a limit on the number of documents or capacity, and some are free while others have a monthly or annual cost. To help ensure the success of the at-home student (and the sanity of the IT department), a school should decide on one platform to use for each of these two central needs and require all to use them, supplemented by any course-related work. That way, students and teachers can become proficient with the technology quickly and then be able to focus on the learning. In addition, the purchase (and cost) of a subscription or membership or account can be handled at the school level by an administrator or assigned manager.
When using the shared document platform, educators should be mindful of two features of this type of technology – who can access it and what they can do with it. When sharing documents:
Your interactive connection software (Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, etc.) will have various limits, features and settings that are too individualized to discuss; however, they all have some shared features that you should access and use:
The final concern is whether to record your classes. Is it legal to do so and, if so, what do you do with the recording and how do you store it? If you decide to record your classes for archival or reuse purposes, you should, but you should do so legally. Most schools have parents sign a release at the beginning of each school year that gives them the right to photograph or record students while in school, and to share those images through social media, press releases, publications and the yearbook. Make sure yours has that option. And as a courtesy, email the parents of all of your students and let them know that you will be recording your classes and what you intend to do with those recordings. Most schools will provide them for students who missed the class and will delete them when that purpose is no longer valid. And if you are recording them on your own computer (as opposed to the Cloud account associated with your platform subscription), consider getting a solid state external drive to store them as they are large and will take up your computer’s hard drive space quickly.
Teaching online is different, challenging and morphing as this school year comes to a conclusion. It does not have to be frustrating and should not be unsafe for you or your students. Using a few of the features provided by the platforms being used, making wise decisions about how to access and share those resources, and preparing the hardware to meet these new requirements will support teachers as they continue to support their students. And by being connected in this manner, educators will find new technological ways to inspire every day.
Steffen Parker has worked with computers since the mid-70s and has been a Macintosh user since its introduction in 1984. Serving as an IT support person for the Vermont Principals’ Association and the Information Support Specialist for Vermont’s Lamoille North Supervisory Union, Parker supports computer use for adults working in education, administration, finance and publication including the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee where he also serves as the Performing Arts representative.