The Big Problem with Video Conferencing in Education

Video Conferencing Image

The Covid-19 pandemic has necessitated a unilateral move to distance learning and education in the UK. Teachers everywhere are exploring platforms such as Skype, Zoom, and Teams to deliver their educational content. But there’s a big problem: the technology isn’t up to the task.

In March 2020, the UK government announced the closure of all schools with immediate effect. This had two near-instantaneous knock-on effects; teachers immediately had to consider how they were going to continue with their jobs, and downloads of business videoconferencing platforms increased by 90% in the space of a week (source: techcrunch.com). However, schools and teachers are quickly finding that the popular platforms don’t fulfil key requirements such as data security and safeguarding. This means that teachers are having to revert to non-synchronous modes of relaying information, such as Google Classroom. These solutions in themselves are not particularly bad, but heavily outmoded and no substitute to synchronous, face to face teaching. Below is an exploration of some of the reasons why seemingly the perfect existing solution has failed:


Safeguarding

The biggest issue that has immediately been raised with the existing platforms is safeguarding. As they are almost universally designed for business professionals, apps like Zoom, Hangouts, and Teams do not conform with even some of the most basic safeguarding requirements. For example, the very fact that teachers could have access to a student’s private camera feed is enough to make schools rightfully concerned. Furthermore, there is no safety net should the teacher make a mistake or something unsuitable should happen, for example in the background of their shot.

 

Data Security & GDPR

Concerns have been raised about apps such as Zoom and Houseparty and their connections to potentially shady foreign locations, for example passing information through servers half way across the world. Schools cannot and do not want to be associated with data breaches or potential political data hacking.


Lack of Integration

Many lessons require worksheets and class materials to be used within the teaching. Most video conferencing apps do not have integrated document sharing or messaging functions, meaning that teachers have to ask students to download and sign up for multiple apps and accounts in order to be taught properly. This reduces engagement and increases risk of issues.


Poor standardisation/adoption

Pupils may be asked to use one app for one class, and another for their next class, leaving them confused and disjointed. It is also highly unlikely that peers will be using the same platforms, meaning that they have increased confusion and lack of support.

 

Hardware Issues

Teachers are having to rely on their own laptops, and can often find that their webcam doesn’t function properly, or their microphone doesn’t connect. This can be frustrating and ultimately put additional load on IT departments, who may or may not be available to assist. This can be disastrous, meaning the planned lesson goes completely out of the window.



These issues and more mean that the major platforms are not suitable for educators and schools in the UK right now. However, there are a small number of businesses who are looking to change this. 

Even though platforms like Zoom and Teams are proving not to be the perfect solution that teachers had hoped, there are solutions out there, and the sooner schools can find and implement these, the quicker our children can get the education they need and deserve.

Six reasons E-learning is better than the classroom

Student Raising Hand

Education is always evolving. Although rooted in the Victorian classroom model, there have been numerous advancements in the field as practitioners continue to seek the best, most effective way of teaching and learning. Recent events and the overall shift in the culture of education has meant that e-learning, remote-learning and alternative education delivery models have been supercharged. Teachers and institutions may be uncertain about this bold new method of teaching, but there are enormous opportunities this new wave of education can provide. Here are the top six: 

  1. Removing practical barriers

Traditional education requires complex routine and ceremony. Consider the process of preparing uniform, getting to a classroom, moving around and getting home. Many hours of non-value-adding time per day are spent doing all of this. These activities also come at a considerable financial cost (and opportunity cost). All the while, this is time and resource that students and teachers alike could be using to improve and accelerate their learning.

Remote learning removes all these barriers, complexities and costs – meaning students get more from their educational experience and teachers can deliver better and richer experiences.

  1. Supporting the ‘forgotten middle’

One of the biggest challenges teachers face is supporting middle attainers. High performers are often provided with extension opportunities and those who struggle get additional support to meet learning objectives, yet those in the middle often lack the opportunity to fulfil their potential. These are the learners who miss out on the support, challenge and development that could move their learning forward. This is, in part, because teachers have to respond to the most immediate demands and middle attaining learners are less likely to be vocal, disappearing into the background. Not being willing to raise hands, participate in group activities or express concerns can amount to slower progress and hinder success. 

Remote learning encourages and allows middle attainers to interact at a pace that suits them without having to raise hands or interrupt. They can pose questions or engage with activities, driven by the fact their teacher can see and respond to their queries, no matter what else is happening in the class.

  1. Richness of education material

For many classrooms most content is still delivered only through spoken word and basic teaching aids. Many schools have limited alternative teaching resources. Remote learning means that students are in front of a computer that allows the teacher to present content including live video streaming, websites, third party lectures, animation, pictures, presentations and pictures.

Remote learning means richer and more diverse content.

  1. Helping the visually impaired and those with limited hearing

For students with limited hearing and sight the classroom can be a very challenging environment. Even a large video screen may be hard to see and even with the best hearing aids there can still be barriers to learning. When students are remote learning at home they can choose peripherals (such as screens, headsets and headphones) that are best suited to their needs. Screens can also have a larger field of view in the home than is ever possible in a classroom.

Remote learning can increase enormously the accessibility of education for those who are less able.

  1. Rich data

Building reportable data has always been a challenge for education institutions, teachers and students alike. As remote learning is delivered through digital processes, the opportunities to collect rich, useful data in a usable format are immense. Data such as a student hours, teaching hours, and level of engagement per student are all easily gained. Going further, data sets such as coursework marking, year end results, and teacher performance appraisals can be analysed to build rich insights that can help drive better educational experiences for all.

Remote learning allows rich, accurate data to be obtained.

  1. Scale

Traditional classroom education has intrinsic scale limits in that there are only so many students that can receive a rich educational experience in a room at once.  Once the quantity of students gets to a certain number, the classroom experience loses its value. Remote learning allows for an infinite classroom size across multiple regions while maintaining a consistent experience for all students. If your platform supports it, like Intelligo does, each student can still interact with the teacher through messaging, and the teacher can answer messages in a concise and customised manner.

How to modify your teaching for online delivery

Teacher Working at home

The shift to online teaching was one that many predicted, but nobody saw it coming with such pace and urgency as it has done in the last month. The speed at which schools and teachers have had to adapt has left many struggling, at the detriment of their students and their own mental health. The effect on schools is also potentially catastrophic; whilst pupils at state schools are somewhat committed, parents will be watching closely to see how the school handles the changes, and private institutions are at risk of total collapse if parents begin to withdraw their children or fees. With this in mind, we put together some tips on how to effectively teach using online resources. With all of the below, it goes without saying that safeguarding is paramount and you should refer back to your school if you are in doubt about any of the things you plan to do.


Make use of the technology

With so many platforms, capabilities and developments out there, it can be overwhelming, and teachers may easily retreat to the comfort of familiar formats such as powerpoint slides and worksheets. This is some of the least engaging content for students who are used to rich experiences, so try to push the boundaries a little! Video lessons are a great way to get pupils more engaged, and if you deliver them in real-time you can add some structure to their day. You can also arrange group or individual meetings with students to discuss work in more depth – giving a greater level of feedback. Take the time to explore what’s out there. Your students will thank you for it!


Experiment with new content

Online learning is an opportunity to explore things that wouldn’t work in a traditional classroom environment. Try some close-up demonstrations, use internet games, or even get up and jump around.


Set (longer) deadlines

Make use of the fact that you don’t have to fit into a one-hour timetable slot. Ask pupils to go away and consider something and come back, or do their own research.


Make it personal

When you’re not in the classroom, the traditional teacher-student relationship is no longer so formal. Make use of this fact by playing on your personal life – reference things in your own home, or wherever you may be teaching from. You may want to dress more casually, or you may want to maintain an air of formality, that’s up to you. But it is often the case that students engage more with a teacher that they can relate to.


Involve Parents

We all know that ‘helicopter parenting’ is not necessarily helpful. But digital learning allows you to tap into parents as a motivational tool. Design your lessons to make use of parents’ knowledge and try to get them enthused in the education process. Parents can also structure evening activities around what children have learned and try to encourage further understanding.

Digital learning is certainly the way forward, so don’t fight it. The reduced environmental impact, increased flexibility, quick access to resources, and added features such as gamification means it is here to stay, and teachers must adapt to providing effective lessons digitally if they want to thrive in this new learning landscape.