Fall is nearly here, and as usual it brings with it the return to school. However, this year is anything but usual for educators and students as they navigate returning to school amid a global pandemic. 

When COVID-19 swept the globe in March of 2020 it closed non-essential businesses and forced almost everyone to adjust to a new remote work lifestyle. Included in this adjustment was educators and students who had to— many for the first time— transition to virtual classrooms and distance learning. Now, after having the summer to prepare their classrooms and syllabi for teaching during a worldwide health crisis, many educators are relying on remote technology to connect with their students as they begin the new hybrid or fully-remote school year.

Keeping Students Engaged Virtually 

The school district of Cooper City, Florida is implementing full virtual classrooms for the upcoming school year. Educators at Charter Schools USA are embracing their virtual classroom with help from the Meeting Owl. The Meeting Owl is adaptable to all popular video conferencing platforms and, due to its 360° camera, allows educators to move freely about their classroom as they typically would when teaching students face-to-face without fear of remote students missing the lesson.

NBC News Correspondent Kerry Sanders, who visited Charter Schools USA to test the Meeting Owl in a classroom ahead of the upcoming school year reported that, “Teachers said that about 30% of their kids stopped learning when the pandemic hit.” A huge factor in this halt of learning is due to the lack of engagement between educators and their students.

Thanks to the Meeting Owl’s smart mics with an 18-foot radius for audio pickup, educators can all but remove the barrier of space learning by teaching as they naturally would and treating their virtual classroom as a physical one. In turn, when educators are more comfortable in virtual learning environments, students will follow suit and remain engaged in their education.

No matter the age of your students, it is the job of the educator to keep them engaged virtually. When students aren’t engaged, the learning environment suffers regardless of if it is remote or in-person. Similarly to creating engaging lesson plans and activities for students in a physical classroom, there are many tactics available for teachers to utilize to keep students engaged in a virtual classroom. 

How can you keep students engaged during online learning?

  • Start each virtual class with an ice breaker or trivia question to help students feel connected to one another and foster a fun, communicative virtual atmosphere
  • Maintain a virtual classroom community by creating a class hashtag for students to use to connect on social media
  • Incorporate individual learning plans, just because your students are all joining your virtual classroom from identical squares on your video conferencing platform doesn’t mean they aren’t each unique students with their own individual needs
  • Keep short content at the center of your curriculum and long lectures to a minimum to cater to students’ attention spans
  • Be flexible, regularly check in with your students to be sure you are showing up for them as an educator in a way that they are continuously receptive to

Remote Technology for Teachers and Students

Virtual learning technology is an expansive industry. For teachers and students navigating the new world of remote, distance, or hybrid learning the question is not “Will we use remote technology?” but instead, “Which remote technology will we use?”

The best remote technology successfully replicates the in-person educational environment that teachers and students are used to. Even before COVID-19 ushered in our new heavily-virtual way of living, education tech software was a booming industry that helped a plethora of students around the world receive an education through online courses, digital textbook libraries, and both synchronous and asynchronous communication with educators. 

More benefits of utilizing education tech software include:

  • Students can attend classes from the remote location of their choosing
  • Asynchronous assignments allow students to work at their own pace, resulting in a more effective and personalized learning experience
  • Online digital textbook libraries help students access otherwise untapped literary resources
  • Through modules and online courses, students can easily relearn sections as they need to
  • Digital repositories of teaching materials are available to help teachers stay organized and create effective lesson plans

Choosing Your Virtual Classroom Technology

Whether your classroom this fall will be fully remote or hybrid, either way the educational experience of your teachers and students will depend on the virtual classroom technology available to them. As a jumping off point for your virtual classroom, here are the essential types of remote learning tech tools you should know about:

Video Conferencing Platform

Video conferencing software is the backbone of virtual learning. Without it, online programs are limited to asynchronous communication and self-paced programs without individual-to-instructor interaction. While there are benefits to occasional self-guided lessons, without using video conferencing software to host your lessons live, student engagement will suffer. Popular video conferencing platforms for virtual classrooms include Zoom and Google Meet.

Smart Video Camera

Without a smart camera, your live virtual classroom sessions run the risk of feeling stagnant and your students will be at a higher risk of losing interest in the lesson. To ensure your classes stay active and high-functioning, use a camera that fosters engagement and is built with remote students in mind. Smart classroom cameras like the Meeting Owl help make distance learning classrooms more engaging and interactive than ever before.

Education Technology

Education technology is a classification of technology that is used to promote and access education. It encompasses educational hardware, software, and other related items that help students and teachers gain more from their classroom experiences. Education technology includes Learning Management Software (LMS), platforms that ensure students can access all class materials in the same place while collaborating remotely with one another and their teachers. Popular LMS includes Canvas and Blackboard.

Synchronous Learning

Synchronous learning is any learning that takes place in real time. The primary benefit of utilizing synchronous learning tools is how well they replicate an in-person educational environment.

Primary examples of synchronous learning are:

  • Video conferencing
  • Live, in real-time, webinars
  • Virtual classrooms
  • Instant messaging
  • Audio collaboration
  • Time-based conversations or debates on online discussion boards
  • Video office hours for one-on-one support

Asynchronous Learning

An ideal virtual classroom features a healthy balance of synchronous and asynchronous learning, as both forms of learning have their respective pros and cons. Asynchronous learning is any learning that is not live and instead allows students to complete assignments on their own time, and at their own place. Asynchronous communication still allows for the opportunity for peer and instructor engagement, however, no immediate communication is required.

Primary examples of asynchronous learning are:

  • Module-based online courses
  • Pre-recorded lessons, webinars, and conferences
  • Online forums and discussion boards
  • Self-guided materials
  • Emails to support students or provide one-on-one advice

Online Textbook Marketplaces

While some resources used by teachers and students participating in virtual classrooms will be tangible, there is also a surplus of digital resources available. Online textbook marketplaces allow students to buy or rent physical or digital copies of educational resources such as textbooks, practice problems, tutorials, and practice quizzes. Popular online textbook marketplaces include Cengage and Chegg.

How Schools are Implementing Hybrid Learning Best Practices

School districts across the country are currently faced with creating their own remote or hybrid educational plans. For those schools who have chosen hybrid learning, the next step in the decision making process is figuring out what exactly these hybrid classrooms will look like.

This return to on-site learning as part of a hybrid learning model poses a degree of health risks, but for many school districts and families is a more attainable option. A safe return to on-site learning as part of an expansive hybrid strategy involves complying with CDC guidelines and prioritizing the health and safety of all students and faculty each day.For students and school districts without access to remote learning technology, returning to the physical classroom as part of a hybrid learning plan may be the only way they can continue their education this year. 

Many school districts are implementing hybrid learning options. In compliance with the aforementioned CDC guidelines, here is what this hybrid return looks like for most teachers and students.

Hybrid learning according to CDC guidelines:

  • Small classroom sizes with desks distanced at 6 feet apart
  • All students, teachers, and faculty will wear CDC approved face masks at all times
  • Students will use individual supplies and avoid object sharing
  • School staff and students are encouraged to stay home if they experience any symptoms of COVID-19 or come in contact with someone who tested positive
  • Signs will be posted in common areas to encourage distancing at all times, including arrows in hallways to direct one-way travel and signs promoting hygiene best practices
  • Properly disinfect all school buses, cafeteria tables, classroom desks, bathrooms, and other communal spaces regularly
  • Install physical barriers such as plexiglass in areas where keeping physical distance is not practical, such as guidance counselor’s or administrator’s offices
  • Stagger the use of communal spaces such as libraries, auditoriums, gymnasius, and lunchrooms

Whether you return to school this fall remotely or as part of a hybrid schedule, the “new normal” of your classroom experience will be aided by remote education technology. Remember, this is an adjustment for school staff, educators, and students— there is sure to be a learning curve. With the right preparation, like Zoom’s free Summer Academy, you can feel confident in your return to the remote or hybrid classroom. 

 

Learn From Anywhere: Hybrid Learning Readiness Checklist