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:
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.
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.
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.