School IT Trends For 2021

By Demian Entrekin, founder and CTO, Bluescape.

Demian Entrekin

While video conferencing solutions such as Zoom or Webex are the obvious ways that universities have adopted technology, higher ed is increasingly moving toward technology that creates a more complete classroom environment, something that a video call alone can’t fulfill. Universities are adopting virtual workspaces like Bluescape that integrate all essential applications into one visual plane of information, providing a common operating picture for both educators and students.

Within a virtual workspace, students and educators can operate tools like Zoom and Google Docs at the same time, allowing for easy dissemination of materials for educators and a more holistic learning experience for students. While a professor is presenting slides on a Webex call, students can write down notes and ask questions, all in the same infinite canvas.

Virtual workspaces that enable dynamic collaboration regardless of location are transforming the culture of distance learning. Before, each remote student operated in a silo, with the only points of connection coming through email or a video call. Lectures were often static, one-way information dumps that failed to engage students.

Physical distance meant social disconnection and a drop off in tangible learning. But with virtual workspaces, students can participate in hands-on learning while feeling more connected to their peers and teachers. Using the right technology, distancing learning is shifting from a poor substitute to a viable option, and from a point of disconnection to a renewed learning community.

Biggest IT and Distance Learning Challenges

Different Learning Styles: There’s no going back from the virtual learning need that was created in 2020. It’s opened the door for so many different ways to access learning content and to expand the number of people that can participate in the learning process. We are no longer restricted to the sizes of the classrooms. Of course, there is no question that virtual learning puts additional burden on teachers and the teaching staff to accommodate these complex scenarios, but that’s one of the ways that better technology can help to fill the gap, making lesson planning easier, faster and more effective and more repeatable.

Students can generally be divided into three learning styles: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic (hands-on). Yet distance learning often plays into only one style, leaving others struggling to digest information and keep up. A teacher could upload an audio file of a pre-recorded lecture that neglects visual learners. Instructors may opt to just share documents, diagrams, and notes, leaving audio workers behind.

Kinesthetic learners will struggle to adapt to a class where everything is suddenly virtual and intangible. It’s crucial that educators adapt their teaching methods to all three styles so no one is left behind. That’s why higher ed institutions should rely on virtual workspaces that easily engage all three styles.  At the end of the day, each student learns at their own pace. This is where having access to Virtual workspaces can allow people to be more self-paced in their learning process.

While it may take one person an hour to glean certain material, that might take another person 90 minutes and a third-person 2 hours. Audio learners can benefit from the teacher’s voice over the video call, visual learners can see the documents and slides, and kinesthetic learners can engage their mind and body by taking notes or drawing diagrams, all within the same workspace.

Lack of Collaboration: Every teacher faces the challenge of creating an active learning environment that moves beyond lectures that quickly lose student interest. With students no longer sitting in the classroom, it’s even harder to promote engagement with course material. Instead of a single teacher spewing information to students, using a virtual workspace fosters many-to-many interactions, allowing multiple students to interact with course material, with the teacher, and with each other.

Security: A wave of “Zoom-bombing” during the first months of online classes have revealed that schools are a cyber target. Security risks not only threaten university IP, but disrupts learning. It’s crucial that schools implement the right security measures, which often starts with using secure distance learning solutions. Instead of using a risky web-based URL for collaboration, educators should rely on virtual workspaces that operate in a single, secure “container.” It’s bundled and encrypted, allowing only designated users access to the workspace.

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