Teaching at a Distance: How Technology Can Help You Reach Your Students
by Mike LoganSeptember 12, 2020
As we learned last spring, remote learning brings unique challenges. Many educators were forced to adopt new tools, technologies, and software quickly to finish the school year. After a summer of reflection, we now have a better understanding of what it takes to manage digitally driven classrooms, deliver lessons, and keep students engaged from afar.
There are essential technologies that every remote teacher needs to reach students successfully this semester. Let’s look at a few, as well as some of the often-overlooked advantages of remote learning.
Fortifying both sides for success
When implementing remote learning, it is important to distinguish between near-side and far-side technology.
Near-side technology refers to what educators use on their side of the remote learning environment. For example, the microphone that picks up a teacher’s voice, the camera that captures the footage and the speakers that project remote student voices are all near-side components.
Far-side technology is what remote learners use to absorb lessons and materials from their teachers. Students, like educators, also need microphones to talk into, cameras to show themselves and speakers to hear their teachers and peers.
Note: Speakers differ from voice amplifiers, which help students in classrooms hear their teachers. For remote learning, we need to make sure both near-side and far-side speakers work well enough for users to hear those on the other side of their screens. Both FrontRow and Liberty offer great speakers for the school setting.
Additionally, teachers and students need some type of visual interface to see others, interact, and share digital learning materials. These interfaces can be standalone monitors, laptops, tablets, or mobile devices.
Finally, a stable, low-latency internet connection is crucial for teachers to be able to deliver lessons, engage students in real time and simulate the classroom experience. Without adequate internet, remote and hybrid learning models are hard to maintain. Thanks to companies like Kajeet, schools can provide every student with high-quality internet through mobile hotspots.
How to Maximize Remote Learning Engagement
Now that we understand the components involved in remote learning, let’s discuss how to create compelling learning experiences.
First, teachers must have access to high-quality cameras and microphones. Remote students are much less likely to stay engaged if they can’t see or hear their teachers well. In many cases, school districts may need to invest in attachable webcams or similar devices, which offer better video resolution and sound than the components built into laptops or tablets.
Companies like Vaddio sell fantastic cameras, like the RoboTRAK Presenter Tracking System, that fulfill both video and audio needs and enable smooth viewing experiences for students. Teachers who want to move back and forth between their screen and a second teaching tool, such as a whiteboard, can do so freely with one of these cameras.
Further, they can recreate the back-and-forth feedback loop that often occurs in a classroom setting. For example, should a remote student have a follow-up question or ask to see another example, the teacher can easily walk back to a whiteboard without having to reposition the computer and disrupt the flow of the conversation. Outside of these all-in-one cameras, Sennheiser and Shure both sell fantastic microphones for classroom use.
Equipping students with good cameras and microphones also drastically improves their experience. Having a clear visual feed helps students build relationships and stay connected to their peers. With microphones, they can ask their questions verbally rather than type and wait for a response. Students with headsets from companies like Avid and ThinkWrite will be able to engage more easily with the rest of the class by having headphones and a microphone in a single device.
On the monitor front, we recommend that teachers have two screens when possible, one for engaging with remote students and another for taking care of classroom management responsibilities. By having two screens, educators don’t have to flip back and forth between windows, which can create a disjointed experience for learners.
It’s also important for educators to carefully consider where they place their monitors and cameras. You can make at-home learners feel like they are a part of the class by positioning “them” in a central location. Doing so creates a more natural experience because remote students feel like their teacher is speaking to them as if they were physically present. As an educator, be sure to engage intentionally with all students, no matter where they are located.
Finally, before implementing any of these practices or technologies, spend time in advance getting familiar with how everything works. Run test meetings, upload learning materials, adjust settings and teach mock lessons to iron out the kinks before it’s game time.
The Silver Lining: Advantages of Remote Learning
Fear, nervousness, concern, and anxiety. These may be all too familiar as you face the uncertainty of the unknown in the coming months. However, let's not forget the silver lining in all things.
As your palms begin to sweat with anticipation of the dreaded first remote lesson, consider the joy that a subset of your students will feel when they learn they won’t have to return to school just yet, not because they are lazy or don’t enjoy learning, but because they won’t have to deal with the usual flood of social stressors.
Bullying becomes easier to monitor, anxiety disorders become less intense, and for the first time in their learning years, these students can focus on only one thing…you! Perhaps for the first time ever, these students will be free to enjoy school!
Learning experiences that were previously limited by time, distance and budgets are now more attainable through virtual experiences. You can take your students on adventurous field trips to other states or even different countries or conduct science experiments that were previously limited by school resources.
Now is the time when ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas can shine. Now is the time for teachers to flex their creativity and encourage their students to do the same.
How will you choose to face the coming months? Will you resist change, or embrace it and make the most of the year? The choice is yours!
See how educators are bringing the classroom learning experience into the home with our Remote Learning.
About the Author
Mike Logan is a Regional Vice President of Sales for Trox. He has worked in both the Educational Technology and Pro AV industries for over 20 years. His various roles have given him extensive experience in strategic planning and K-12 technology plan development and implementation. Mike is passionate about helping schools and districts discover the value technology brings to learning and how it can help develop new learning methods and change learning outcomes.