Distance Learning Done Right, Even for the Tech-Unsavvy

A teacher-technologist discusses the challenges of implementing collaboration tools.

GUEST COLUMN | by Dov Friedman

The communications revolution has truly turned the world into a global village. Today, you can be here and present your voice, image, and ideas all the way over there – on the other side of the world. The technology to do that has advanced so much in the past decade that what was just a short time ago the stuff of science fiction, is now a part of everyday life.

Business, and teachers

This revolution has made it possible for businesses to operate almost everywhere in the world, and to enable teachers to reach students anywhere in the world. Using video, voice, and web conferencing technology, teachers and professors can conduct distance learning classes for students anywhere. Distance learning can mean anything from enabling a school to increase its reach and enrollment, to bringing skills crucial to the survival of populations in the developing world.

The trick is

Of course, the trick is to take advantage of technology in order to accomplish this  – but that isn’t always so easy. Tech in this format can be complicated at first, especially for those who aren’t familiar with it. 

Teachers – unless they happen to be well-versed in internet technology – may fall into that category, and their lack of tech savviness could hamper plans to bring tech into the classroom. If they or their students get too frustrated with the tech, and in turn they are unable to actualize the goals they had at the time the distance learning program was first set up, teachers may decide to give up on many of the features that provide the greatest value for distance learning to both schools and students. This would be a shame, because when used right, the tools that are readily available really can provide the optimal experience for everyone involved. 

Laying out expectations

To avoid a situation like that, teachers and administrators need to lay out what their expectations and goals are, what the capabilities of the distance learning tech they intend to implement are, and what needs to be done to achieve those goals. Otherwise, institutions may find that they’ve spent a lot of money for no reason.

What can, or should, a distance learning program do for teachers, students, and schools? The range of objectives of course varies with the goals of institutions. If they want to simply enable teachers to beam their lessons to the world, a simple recording of oneself teaching a lesson will suffice. But if they want a more immersive experience – one that will duplicate the classroom experience as closely as possible, some type of live online learning via a web conferencing platform is needed. And in order to duplicate the experience of being in a classroom, these tools must be readily available and easy to access both during and after the lesson for teachers and students alike. 

What the tech needs to do

Teachers want to be able to engage with students in a variety of ways, individually and as a group. This engagement means enabling an interactive experience, akin to a teacher calling on a student who has a question or comment. The technology needs to be able to address those issues. Breakout sessions used with web conferencing, where a teacher will split up a group and assign tasks, are another feature of the classroom experience teachers want to implement. Add to that the necessity of enabling students to address teachers, and each other, directly, as well as providing tools within the LMS for teachers to take attendance, schedule tests and assignments – in short, a full array of tools that will enable teachers to provide the experience students are used to, even if they are participating in class from home.

Better integration

But the way distance learning students are forced to manage their own course loads, keep track of uploaded lectures and videos, note their attendance, access needed resources and more, is often difficult. Whether online within the learning management system, or via video resources both in the LMS and web conferencing, students can feel overloaded with information. Better integration between the web conferencing platform and the LMS supports better student organization and encourages participation, while mitigating the chances of important information falling through the cracks. 

More comprehensive integration between the LMS and web conferencing will do away with the cumbersome steps and requirements of the learning platforms used by most universities and institutions. When the integration is properly streamlined, both teachers and students are afforded a simpler teaching and learning experience. Ultimately, the shared goal is to allow for teachers to teach better and students to learn better. Whether they are in front of their teacher or across the country, they will be learning with far fewer obstacles. 

Dov Friedman is the Co-Founder and Vice President of Business Development at CirQlive. He has been working in the edtech space for nearly 20 years, previously as both a teacher and mentor. Dov’s current role enables him to meet with teachers, professors, IT professionals and edtech influencers from across the globe and help them understand how to easily and effectively implement live online collaboration tools into their organizations. 


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