The current outbreak of the Corona virus has highlighted a particular educational need which I believe EdTech is well placed to fill; the need for learning to continue when staff and/or students are unable to actually attend school either due to forced closures or individual illness or through forced isolation such as is required in relation to containing the Corona virus.
There are a wide variety of platforms in use in schools which can support remote learning plus platforms which can easily be put into place and even some companies offering their platforms free during this current crisis such as Centurys offer to Asian schools. Sadly, as the list of options is very long plus I don’t personally have experience of all possible solutions and configurations, for the purposes of this post I am going to focus on the solutions I do have experience of.
I am going to start with Microsoft Teams as it is the one which immediately jumps to mind, in particular its “Meet Now” functionality. The reason this functionality is first to my thoughts is my belief in learning as a social experience and therefore the need for interaction beyond simple file sharing, ideally in a video format complete with all the non-verbal cues present in our normal day to day interactions with others. Via Meet Now lesson content can be shared as a live video stream including the ability to share desktop content such as presentations or worked examples, etc. This is very useful for conducting a lesson remotely or allowing students to access a lesson remotely however it also includes the ability for the video stream to be automatically recorded so that students can also view it after the event, in an “on demand” basis. Microsoft will also automatically transcribe the video making it easily searchable however I note that this very much depends on the quality of the audio within the video and the pace of speech, the accents of individuals speaking, etc so it isn’t full proof.
As well as in a class or group context Teams can also be used on a 1:1 basis to allow teachers to conduct video calls with students independent of the device they are using and their location. Using the Chat facility, a video call can easily be started and again both student and teacher have the ability to share their desktop and/or share files as needed. Where bandwidth is an issue, rather than using video, teachers and students can fall back to a text-based discussion albeit I believe video is generally preferable. A student with a mobile phone and a cellular contract could therefore interact with their teacher from a quiet room at home or even while on a bus or train.
In relation to using Teams Microsoft have already shared some advice for where schools want to enable and use of Teams. You can view this info here. If seeking to setup Teams quickly, assuming an Office 365 tenancy is in place complete with student accounts, my suggestion would be to enable teachers to create teams for their classes and support them to use Team Codes to allow students to join the relevant class. This means everything can quickly be put in place to allow for use of Teams.
In terms of more static content such as learning resources, worksheets, etc, which you might want students to access, this ideally could be delivered through whichever learning platform is in use within a school. Teams can also provide this facility or a SharePoint site, another component of office 365, could be quickly created to host the relevant learning content files. OneNote could also provide such static content however additionally OneNote can allow teachers to provide written and even verbal feedback to students on their work allowing a more realistic two-way communication and learning experience to be developed. I suspect I could actually write a piece on OneNote on its own however for now the above will need to suffice.
Personally, I also think Flipgrid is worthy of mention as another possible video related solution which can be put in place quickly allowing teachers to share video content with students and students to reply again with video. I think this could be useful for creating the feeling of group discussion where the students are in diverse locations and may not be able to access the video stream at a specified time. Another app worthy of mention would be Wakelet in its potential use by teachers to collate resources quickly and easily ready for students to access as, when and where needed.
The options are many and I have barely scratched the surface. I have focussed on the Microsoft solutions however Google offer similar functionality for those schools using G-suite rather than Office 365. The reality is that there isn’t one correct solution, there are many possibilities and a schools chosen approach needs to fit the individual school. I also think we need to share ideas and thoughts on this as situations like this may become more common either related to illnesses like currently, due to natural disasters or environmental conditions or due to other events, hence this post. Mark Steeds comments are particularly useful as they come from actual experience of this rather than simply theory which I need to admit my views above are. I also think we need to acknowledge that outside of dramatic events, the ability for remote learning to be possible and even encouraged is something we need to give more consideration to. Using technology to enable and support remote learning is another tool in the teachers toolbox; A tool which is particularly powerful in reaching individual students with individual needs. Why, therefore, should it be restricted to use during special circumstances such as viral outbreak?
A couple of additional Microsoft resources have been brought to my attention and are listed below (thanks to Ian Stuart, @IanStuart66 for highlighting):