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Technological Pitfalls from Use of Online Programs During Pandemic

By Steffen Parker on May 13, 2020 hst Print

Prepared or not, high school education is now online for everything from Algebra to AP American History and Ceramics. For most school educators, this change came as a shock, but one that most are able to manage with the support of their more tech-savvy colleagues, their school’s IT support personnel and their own children and students.

While the process is easier for some courses that are text-based in the classroom, every course taught online has a diminished impact on students simply because of the loss of in-person interaction that the classroom provides. In navigating this new normal, teachers and administrators are facing the difficulty of providing content. As part of that transition, there are some technology pitfalls that could derail even the best-prepared teacher with the perfect lesson plan.

Regardless of which web-based platforms educators use to connect with their students, they are doing so on their home Internet connection and likely their home computer. And they may be sharing both with their working-at-home spouse and learning-at-home children. To make that experience better for everyone involved, there are a few things one can do to reinforce that infrastructure:

  • If possible, increase your download capabilities on your Internet connection.
  • Most home routers have two networks for connection; make sure to have some users on one and some on the other.
  • Disconnect any devices not being used from the network during peak use time, such as televisions, smartphones, printers (when not needed), weather stations, smart appliances, webcams, etc.
  • If someone in the home uses the Internet extensively or you have a desktop computer, connect those devices to the router with an Ethernet cable to save space on the WiFi.
  • If possible, schedule the users in the house and schedule uploads/downloads for evenings or overnight (you can schedule software updates to occur while you sleep).

While some educators will find topic-specific platforms that will support their online teaching, almost all educators will need to use two core programs – the ability to connect interactively and a manner to share documents back and forth. The connection platforms include Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, FaceTime and Skype, while the document sharing can be done through Google Drive, OneDrive, Box, iCloud and DropBox, to name a few.

Some of these platforms are easier to navigate than others, some have a limit on the number of documents or capacity, and some are free while others have a monthly or annual cost. To help ensure the success of the at-home student (and the sanity of the IT department), a school should decide on one platform to use for each of these two central needs and require all to use them, supplemented by any course-related work. That way, students and teachers can become proficient with the technology quickly and then be able to focus on the learning. In addition, the purchase (and cost) of a subscription or membership or account can be handled at the school level by an administrator or assigned manager.

When using the shared document platform, educators should be mindful of two features of this type of technology – who can access it and what they can do with it. When sharing documents:

  • Share document or folder access with individual emails and do not use the feature where anyone with the link can access.
  • Use a single shared folder with each class so that when you add a document to that folder, it is automatically shared with the same identified group.
  • Set your shared documents to VIEW ONLY so that your students may not modify them.
  • Set your shared documents to COMMENTS so that your students may comment on the document text, but not modify it.
  • Set your shared documents to EDIT so that your students can collaborate on the document itself.
  • If you share a document that you want students to complete individually in some manner (test, assignment, etc.), have them make a copy, rename it with their last name and test name (Parker_Quiz1), store it on THEIR folder and share it with you when done. If they make the copy and just save it, it will be in the shared folder that all students have access to and can then see or copy.

Your interactive connection software (Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, etc.) will have various limits, features and settings that are too individualized to discuss; however, they all have some shared features that you should access and use:

  • Send the invitation to individual emails; DO NOT make them public.
  • Require a password for entry besides the Meeting ID.
  • Use the Waiting Room so you can admit participants to confirm that they should be there.
  • Lock the class once everyone is in attendance.
  • Restrict Screen Sharing and video to the host to begin with and share only as needed with only those who need it during the class.
  • Never host a meeting a public WiFi network.

The final concern is whether to record your classes. Is it legal to do so and, if so, what do you do with the recording and how do you store it? If you decide to record your classes for archival or reuse purposes, you should, but you should do so legally. Most schools have parents sign a release at the beginning of each school year that gives them the right to photograph or record students while in school, and to share those images through social media, press releases, publications and the yearbook. Make sure yours has that option. And as a courtesy, email the parents of all of your students and let them know that you will be recording your classes and what you intend to do with those recordings. Most schools will provide them for students who missed the class and will delete them when that purpose is no longer valid. And if you are recording them on your own computer (as opposed to the Cloud account associated with your platform subscription), consider getting a solid state external drive to store them as they are large and will take up your computer’s hard drive space quickly.

Teaching online is different, challenging and morphing as this school year comes to a conclusion. It does not have to be frustrating and should not be unsafe for you or your students. Using a few of the features provided by the platforms being used, making wise decisions about how to access and share those resources, and preparing the hardware to meet these new requirements will support teachers as they continue to support their students. And by being connected in this manner, educators will find new technological ways to inspire every day.