Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Video Conferencing for Teaching from Home

With over 15 years experience in using various video conference (VC) platforms in education. I have written my MSc on the effective use of VC technology in primary & secondary education (K-12), consulted individual schools, districts, non-profit organisations, global content providers (from both the private and public sector), JANET (JISC) UK and at one time our Department for Education on broadband specifications for VC technology, chaired the UK VC partnerships group and most recently trained and employed teachers in London to deliver weekly English classes to some of the most rural parts of the world. So now I would like to share some good practice and offer free support to government organisations in:
  •  What technologies to use and why.
  •  Teacher training - how to effectively deliver a lesson over VC.
  •  How to successfully implement VC technology across a school, or multiple sites and regions.
The advice below would greatly help to deliver classes to children who are no longer in school due to unforeseen school closures.
Please note the proprietary options offered by the huge technology giants are not always the best video conference solutions (quality wise nor functionality wise).  Please tread very carefully before deploying these.

Platforms that meet interoperbility standards (H323 standards) and companies specialising in delivering video conference solutions to the education sector, eg. the V-scene platform and the Zoom platform, should be considered as viable educational options. Both platforms have a "free" option for schools and a more advanced paid for option.

Here are some guidelines to consider:

1) Who is your audience (age of pupils and class size)?
The age of pupils will determine the delivery of your class, its length and content. Whether or not you use a webinar function or not?  Large groups of younger children may opt for a short webinar without the interaction. With smaller groups of older pupils it is more feasible to allow a fully interactive video and audio connection. The class size determines how easy or not it will be to manage in coming video or audio from multiple sites. All this needs consideration and some planning beforehand.

2) What technology to use?
Using a webinar function with younger children for a short 20 minute booster class may work really well.  Whereas, with older pupils in a smaller group allowing the interaction with a web cam is more feasible.  The platform used to deliver the classes must be secure, encrypted and interoperable.  The teacher's computer being used to deliver the classes needs to have a camera and microphone with good internet connectivity (ideally via physical cable to a modem).

3) Training.
Teachers should to be trained to deliver lessons over video conference.  For most this is a very scary thought. This isn't something that teachers will be able to do well without being given some additional support. Training is needed to build confidence with  both the pedagogy and the technology.

4) Safeguarding.
The platform you use to deliver your classes is key. Not only for ease of use but for security. It is worth remembering that your teachers will be sat at their homes, video conferencing into the homes of their pupils, which can bring about its own unforeseen issues.  So in this event once again, teachers must be trained to mute mics, switch off video, etc.

This is an incredibly trying time and full of new norms needing to be implemented effectively, robustly and quickly, though hopefully only on a temporary basis.
Please feel free to contact me about any of the above.

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