The communication revolution created by video conferencing is a big leap forward towards one of the ‘good’ sci-fi futures, a brighter tomorrow in which we’re able to make genuine connections the world over. Before we get there, though, we’re going to have to step up access to quality education to help the next generation gain a head start. This means utilizing hyflex and distance learning effectively in the classroom. Unfortunately, most schools are still using setups and designs made for 100% in-person attendance or utilizing piece-mealed solutions that were never meant to be permanent. With poor performing DIY conferencing equipment and almost no training on how to integrate it into their lesson plans, too many educators are left flailing as they try to juggle the needs of their local and remote students.
Never fear, though – at Stem, we believe that no IT manager or educator should be left behind in this revolution! We’ve developed a list of some of the biggest obstacles classroom IT managers face in creating hybrid or hyflex classrooms and the solutions to overcome them.
Issue #1 – Rooms Are Not Set Up For Hybrid Environments
A ton of schools have adopted video conferencing as part of their curriculum in theory, but in reality, most classrooms and meeting spaces are still set up for in-person attendees only. Professors and teachers have to juggle eight applications at once using just one or two monitors, cameras and displays are poorly placed, and the audio is limited to the professor’s voice only.
It’s not entirely the school’s fault – the 2020 pandemic caused things to move much quicker than they were expecting, leading to a bunch of piecemeal DIY solutions being created that kept the whole system temporarily afloat. Audio setups were the worst victims of this process, and now that students are returning for hybrid class setups, these systems are in desperate need of a makeover.
Schools are going to need to experiment with alternative room designs and arrangements to integrate the technology into the curriculum. Teachers will probably need to have access to either more monitors or multiple computers so they can observe all the applications and notes they need for the day.
An audio ecosystem gives teachers a complete solution to the communication problems they have with current setups. Not only does the hardware let students communicate to both the teacher and other students, but the software platforms give teachers a lot of flexibility with coverage and muting options.
Issue #2 – Student Engagement
Engaging hyperactive kids, hormonal teenagers, and aloof young adults is difficult at the best of times, but when you add in the distractions they have at home it can be almost impossible. Keeping remote students engaged is probably one of the biggest obstacles teachers are facing today – a study from the University of Texas at San Antonio found that 65% of teachers believed their students were less engaged and 59% said students were turning in assignments less often.
The lack of engagement comes from a combination of distractions at home (hello, Fortnight) to a lack of social connections to friends and teachers and the accountability that comes with them. Teachers that are used to using in-class activities to create an attachment to the material often don’t have the tools to get the same results for remote students.
One innovative way teachers have kept students engaged is by incorporating game elements into the classroom. Progress bars, experience points, and rewards for achieving certain goals keep students striving to achieve even when they’re surrounded by distractions at home. You can even incorporate some competitive aspects as well, making certain badges and awards available to high achievers.
Other than turning learning into a game, teachers can use new tools to imitate that in-class feel. Detailed project timelines and calendars, providing devices that require a VPN connection that blocks possible distractions, and frequent team projects and discussions all work wonders to help keep remote students engaged.
The key to this final point is an effective audio solution that allows remote students to communicate with their teammates. Most classroom audio setups are made to project the teacher’s voice only, effectively dividing communications between those in the room and those at home and leaving the latter group in the dark about what’s being discussed. By utilizing an audio ecosystem made up of networked microphones and speakers, remote students can seamlessly participate in group discussions and team exercises.
Issue #3 – Collaboration
Video conferencing is one of the most powerful collaboration tools ever made, letting people from all over the world connect and get the benefits of face-to-face communications from the comfort of their living room. Despite this, students feel less connected to one another now than ever before.
Organizing group projects that include remote students in class or requiring students to hold conferences with one another for homework assignments is regularly failing and causing all kinds of confusion. Since learning how to collaborate and work together is one of the biggest objectives for schools the world over, this is a major problem.
Once again, using the proper tools is the key to victory. Creating a standard software package that students can use for organization, communications, and turning in assignments lets them have common resources they can use to work together effectively.
Software isn’t the only piece of the puzzle, though. Giving students access to the hardware they need, including cameras, displays, speakerphones, and headsets let them take full advantage of the benefits video conferencing has to offer. After all, if they can’t see or hear each other, video conferencing can just turn into an exercise in frustration.
Issue #4 – Staying Connected With Teachers
Teachers rely on a consistent feedback loop to better connect with their students – if they notice many in class are asking similar questions or just don’t seem to get it, they can adjust their lesson plan to make sure the point is getting across. The addition of remote students has thrown a major wrench into the works for unprepared teachers, who either need to regularly interrupt the lesson to read out typed questions or don’t notice them and move on to the next point.
Many of these remote students never get a chance to talk to their instructors in person, meaning these brief interruptions are about as much of a connection they are going to get with them. This leads to a breakdown in the feedback loop and students being left behind that wouldn’t be otherwise.
Making yourself more available to your students outside of normal class hours is the best thing you can do to recreate the in-person connection with your students. Office hours being made available or expanded, group sessions with struggling students, and giving a direct line via instant messaging apps like Slack or Microsoft Teams gives students access to the teacher and helps re-establish the feedback loop teachers need to support their classes.
Teachers are busy people, of course, so they can’t always be available. Schools can work together with teachers to provide resources outside of class to help struggling students, including training, tutoring, and group learning opportunities.
Issue #5 – Outdated training for students and educators
With over half of students choosing online course options and the ever-present possibility that schools will need to go fully remote again, it’s safe to say that video conferencing and other forms of online communications have become a crucial tool for education. Even so, a lot of students and even more teachers just don’t know how to use it. The same UoT study found that, in some school districts, as few as 5% of teachers had any experience teaching online or hybrid classes. Some adapted well and got into the swing of things, but most sunk with a thud.
This basic lack of technical skill means more disruptions and delays caused by confused teachers and students getting jumbled up while trying to make their way through an online or hybrid lesson. It also means a LOT of support calls being made to IT departments, many of which are repeated weekly or even daily.
Both teachers and students are going to need training to get on the same page. Once school districts have adopted standardized software packages for everyone to use, training sessions should be organized to help teachers transition into a higher-tech classroom and get to know the tools they’ll be using.
As part of their orientation, students should also be introduced and taught how to use the hardware and software that they’ll be stuck with for the foreseeable future. For the sake of the IT department’s sanity, some basic diagnostics tests should also be added so both students and teachers don’t hit an easy to solve stumbling block and call it quits.
Learn more about how the Stem Ecosystem can help create the perfect hybrid classroom:
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