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Building a Better Virtual K-12: A Coronavirus Primer

Rebecca Rozakis
Updated November 14 2020
How to take K-12 virtual during coronavirus
Rebecca Rozakis
Updated November 14 2020

K-12 schools around the world have gotten a crash course in online learning since the beginning of the Coronavirus crisis. As schools have experimented with hybrid, hyflex, in-person, and online options, many have found themselves repeatedly having to go back to the drawing board. What are some of the elements of a successful primary or secondary school COVID-19 plan?

Flexibility is Key During COVID-19

The most important element of any plan is flexibility. As the virus continues to come in waves, at any point, classes can be shut down. So any in-person options need to be balanced by the ability to move everything online on a moment’s notice. In addition, any individual kid or family (or teacher or staff member) could show up with symptoms and have to go into isolation. So plans also need a lot of individual flexibility.

 

Fortunately, you actually have a lot of different options available. From VOD to live lecture capture to fully virtual classrooms, there are a lot of ways to get classes online fast. Here are some options, and some tips for each.

On Demand Classes

The easiest way to get materials to students is by recording sessions and providing them as on-demand resources. While most schools are running live classes, there are plenty of supplemental classes and materials that can work better in a pre-recorded format, especially specials like art or gym.

 

How:

  • Lecture capture solutions exist, and can range from fancy hardware to laptop capture.
  • However, many schools aren’t ready to go that formal (and potentially expensive). That’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with recording from home. Ideally, a simple video capture tool will let teachers capture both their webcam and their desktop or presentation.
  • Ideally, a Learning Management System is the best way to organize information, including class materials, uploading homework, and gradebooks. Integrating your video tools, especially your live video tools, into your LMS will make a major difference in your success.
  • A video portal makes it easier to keep things organized, including community-facing materials. Schools can build a repository of classes, PTA meeting recordings, campus event recordings, and more.
high school student learning remotely at home

Virtual Classrooms

When trying to replicate the classroom experience online, the gold standard is the virtual classroom. A virtual classroom does nearly everything an in-person experience does. The teacher shares video of themselves as well as any supplemental materials they want, including presentations, screen shares, videos, and even whiteboards. Students also share their cameras, and can chat, ask questions, raise their hands, and be called on by the instructor to talk. More sophisticated platforms also allow classes to be divided up into breakout sessions for small group discussions before reconvening with the main class, collaboratively draw on the whiteboard, share group notes, and more.

How:

  • The easiest solution is to use a platform actually designed to be a virtual classroom. Teachers can easily set up their own virtual room, just like they would set up their classroom. Students come back to the same space every day, so they can pick up where they left off. Normal classroom behavior, like going up to the board or being called on to speak, works very similarly to the way it does in a physical environment. It’s simple to look around at the faces of the class, and to pull an attendance list at the end of the session.
  • While it’s tempting to just use a video conference service like Zoom or Skype, keep in mind that these were originally designed for business and do not support a lot of the features that a solution designed with education in mind can offer.
  • If you do use video conferencing, make sure you have a plan for how to manage your recordings. Can you attach them to courses? If students miss a class, how can they find the recording?
  • A service that uses persistent rooms is the most convenient for educators; it allows teachers to set up the virtual classroom once for. There’s no need to get everyone the correct link every time for today’s class—there’s just one link that can be easily sent to students and parents, and used every day. Then every time students log in, they find themselves automatically in a customized room for that class, including the recordings and notes from the previous sessions.

Advantages of Video and Virtual Classrooms

Today’s students live and breathe video. For many, going to school via video will be more appealing than the in-person experience. If nothing else, the novelty factor will help get them over some of the resistance to a change in routine. Video can help keep their attention far better than just a pile of worksheets sent home.

 

Keeping their attention is a major reason to focus on live video, especially. Many households will be struggling with childcare. Whether parents are trying to work from home or supervision is delegated to grandparents and other non-professional teachers, most kids are not going to have someone trained on hand to facilitate learning throughout the day. Expecting small children to be responsible enough to pay attention to on-demand educational videos without HEAVY supervision is not very realistic.

 

With a virtual classroom, teachers can actually see students’ faces. This is particularly critical for primary and secondary educators, so they can tell if their students are paying attention. Or if they’re playing with their toys or have wandered away completely. It gives both teachers and working-from-home parents a little more leverage for keeping young learners focused on their schoolwork in the distraction-rich environment of their own homes.

Video Assignments

To get kids really excited (and to encourage more active learning), ask them to create video assignments. A simple video capture tool can be helpful here for taking screencaptures and webcam footage, but all you really need is a repository where students can upload footage from their phone. Tiktok natives will be overjoyed to show their prowess; teachers may be impressed to see what their students can produce.

Lean-Forward Learning Experiences

Unfortunately, it can be all too easy for kids to zone out during videos. One way to keep them engaged is to make video time more interactive.

For live video classrooms, use the engagement features:

  • Kids LOVE polls.
  • Quizzes can be included as part of a live video lecture – pop quiz time!
  • Letting students collaborate in shared notetaking and calling them to the whiteboard makes a nice alternative to the traditional blackboard.
  • Breakout rooms allow for smaller group work.

For recorded videos, all kinds of interesting options are available for creating a lean-forward experience.

  • Hotspots let you attach materials within a video, link to other videos or sites, or even create loops within a video.
  • Quizzes can let you re-engage learners, take a poll, or even send results to your LMS gradebook.
  • Interactive video paths let you create “choose your own adventure” style videos, where learners can personalize their own experience.

Other School Communications During the Coronavirus Crisis

Classes are obviously the most urgent need, but it’s not the only type of gathering or communication schools rely on. As we’ve seen schools start up and then go back into lockdown, make sure to plan for alternate communications. Webcasting is a way for administrations to communicate quickly with faculty and staff at large. Video emails allow more personal communications, even when in-person meetings become impossible. And it seems entirely possible we’ll be facing at least another year of virtual graduations.  (See how one university handles livestreaming commencement.) Better to start planning now than to scramble at the last minute.

 

Since COVID-19 has become our new normal, it’s up to us to create an environment where students can learn no matter what happens. It’s never too late to get teachers the tools they need to make a difference.

 

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