Upgrading the Remote Learning and Hybrid Classroom

These unprecedented and uncertain times have spawned a paradigm shift in the way teaching and learning are conducted. With many schools and districts struggling to not only maintain effective engagement with their students but to be able to quickly and easily adjust to changing and ambiguous guidelines is equally as challenging. The ability to swiftly and seamlessly adjust to the unknown, short- and long-term future of curriculum facilitation is essential for maintaining education continuity for all students whether they are remote, in-class, or a combination of both.  Furthermore, the unpredictability of where educators can actually teach at any given time adds another caveat to fostering engagement whether learning in class, from home, or a merger of the two depending on the current climate. 

With additional local, state, and federal funding available to help schools and districts build remote and hybrid learning programs, the opportunities to effectively support students and teachers are there. However, with so many products, solutions, and methods surrounding the distance learning concept, it can be difficult to determine which solutions maintain and maximize engagement in multiple classroom or remote scenarios, and which can be easily integrated into all options. The key is to understand what types of solutions can provide the foundation for effective distance and hybrid learning concepts.  

An Ever-Evolving State

The uncertainty of the progression or digression of the current pandemic climate requires that schools and districts be ready for multiple scenarios during a given school year. Schools may start off the year online-only, but with the intent of having students back in the classroom at a certain point. Some may engage in a hybrid model where higher-risk students are able to continue learning from home while in-class instruction occurs simultaneously. However, changes in the pandemic status may require that schools go full online again to maintain the safety of all students. It is necessary for schools and districts to prepare for quick and seamless direction changes so teaching and learning continuity is maintained. 

Keeping students on-task and engaged can be a challenge regardless of which scenario is being used at the time. Remote students relying on video collaboration technologies can be additionally difficult without solutions specifically designed for these environments. Web cameras can be used as an inexpensive and temporary vehicle to maintain visuals between teachers and students in a virtual environment, however since many web cameras were originally designed for person-to-person and casual video communication, some limitations are apparent.  Some of these constraints include a static field of view where teachers are not able to move around the classroom, lower or choppy video quality, and out of sync video and audio which can all contribute to remote students losing focus and engagement. 

Therefore, building a foundation where virtual students can have a similar interactive and engaging experience with a clear and real-time connection with the teacher is important in maintaining effective communication and collaboration. Utilizing video collaboration technology specifically designed to enhance effective communication and information sharing is essential for maintaining a near-to-life connection to students not able to attend a physical class. Other essential classroom tools such as document cameras can be easily utilized in multi-purpose remote, hybrid learning, and even remote teaching situations. Finally, safe and secure charging solutions for in-class student devices are equally as important once students do return to class to ensure their technologies are enabled to support the in-class curriculum. Here we will explore the uses, benefits, and real-life applications of these foundational solutions to best provide equal opportunity education for all learners, regardless of physical location. 

During my time as a principal, I worked with EdTech organizations such as AVer Information in order to help ensure their solutions are relevant, up to date, and effective. Way back in 2010, my school was part of their national AverAcademy program where I became very knowledgeable as to how their solutions could support good teaching and learning. Tools and solutions need to address the current climate, as well as align with future scenarios and possibilities. Their distance learning solutions are not only a natural fit into the present environment but will continue to be effective as conditions change. 

New-Age Tools Can be a Solution 

As opposed to basic web cameras, auto-tracking distance learning cameras give your remote students a real, in-class experience while they learn from home, maintaining a real-time connection with both the teacher and fellow classmates. With a variety of features and functions, these professional-grade video collaboration solutions can take engagement to new levels while setting the stage for empowering tasks. The offer enhancements such as pan tilt zoom, auto-tracking, optical zoom, compatibility with popular video conference tools (Zoom, MS Teams, Google Meets), and free software.

Document cameras are time-tested classroom tools originally designed to clearly and immediately display physical objects and demonstrations on the fly without needing digital representations. Whether students are learning from home or in-class, document cameras have emerged as a multi-faceted solution to add real-life curriculum examples no matter where teaching is happening. Clearly display your physical lesson material to both in-class and remote students simultaneously. They can also connect with an auto-tracking camera so your remote students will experience your instruction and demonstration material in real-time, without missing a beat. 

With students returning to classrooms, device charge and storage solutions are more necessary than ever. With unknown variables such as the number of students in a classroom as well as potential part-time in-class students, charge and storage carts need to be available for charging and security as students are in-class. With some students using these devices both at home and in the class, additional safety and cleaning measures should be in place to keep devices clean. Storage and charging carts have now been updated with UV sanitation, adaptive intelligent charging, configurable and customizable slots, and individual AC adaptor compartments. 

It is more important than ever to use innovative classroom technology to foster student engagement, effective curriculum delivery, increase discourse, and set the stage for empowerment through personalization. The right solutions can greatly assist educators as they navigate through the new and uncertain future of teaching and learning.