In a higher education setting, concepts such as experiential learning, group interaction and student experiences are essential for learning critical thinking skills and honing problem-solving techniques. Unfortunately, ad-hoc distance learning programs at colleges and universities across the country are relying on traditional video conferencing and online presentations to replace in-person classes.
And it’s just not cutting it.
After scrambling to finish up the last academic year, higher ed professionals are under a microscope to do better this fall. After all, the cost of higher education hasn’t gone down, and the lackluster experiences parents and students alike have been anecdotally sharing among their peers aren’t painting a positive value proposition.
The New Normal Demands Better Communication and Collaboration
Schools, especially higher education institutions, have been slow to adopt new technology strategies and initiatives. Distance learning demands that colleges and universities step up the pace of embracing technology as the way to bridge the gap between in-class, in-person education and remote connectivity.
The first step is to recognize that putting slides online for self-learning is not a lesson plan. A video conference call is not a substitute for group interaction. These technologies completely disengage the remote student and do not come close to mimicking the classroom experience.
Most online classes today are just linear PowerPoint presentations of class lecture notes. Where this style of teaching may have worked in times past, rote learning and passive consumption is no longer acceptable. Simply screen sharing lesson plans doesn’t allow remote students to engage any more than watching TV.
Realizing that neither students nor educators want a lackluster learning experience, the teams at Vizetto and Baanto have created radically innovative technologies which enable groups of students to debate, argue, contrast different ideas and share thoughts naturally. It literally takes the distance out of distance learning by breaking down barriers that being remote causes and creates an experiential learning platform.
The disruptions to our society due to the coronavirus pandemic include significant impacts to education. Universities and colleges around the world have had to adjust to the reality of remote learning, at least for the foreseeable future.
The nation’s largest four-year college system, California State University, announced in May that instruction will primarily be conducted online this fall, and many other institutions are following suit. It’s now estimated that 70% of students are currently engaged in some form of online education.
This shift to digital learning has introduced a steep learning curve that many institutions that were unprepared for. Schools are working quickly to not only build the curriculum and content necessary to support online courses, but to also build the distance learning infrastructure needed by faculty and students to ensure simple and seamless remote access to this content. The challenges are, how to do this at scale, and how to do it securely.
The need to provide distance learning, and to do it quickly, has introduced new risks for educational institutions while creating potential opportunities for cyber adversaries. Schools have long been a target for cybercriminals. According to the 2019 Verizon Data Breach Report, education continues to be plagued by human errors, social engineering and denial of service attacks.
The changes brought about by the pandemic only compound those existing challenges. Based on recent information released in the latest Global Threat Landscape Report from FortiGuard Labs covering the first half of 2020, education comes in third, only after telecommunications providers and managed security service providers (MSSPs), in the percentage of institutions detecting ransomware.
Making Distance Learning Secure
Cyber adversaries have refocused their criminal efforts to take advantage of the new remote work and education environment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re targeting the vulnerable devices and home networks of remote users looking to use those systems to open a back door into the core network.
This is evidenced by the significant increase in attacks targeting such things as consumer-grade routers, personal IoT devices, and components such as DVRs connected to home networks detected during the first half of 2020. Threat researchers are also seeing a spike in older attacks designed to exploit vulnerabilities in the often unpatched devices on home networks.
In fact, 65% of detected threats were from 2018, and a quarter of all detected attacks targeted vulnerabilities from 2004.
Naturally, the ability to securely support a remote learning policy is an essential component of any continuity and disaster recovery plan. However, to ensure that networked resources of colleges and universities, as well as those of remote faculty and students, are protected, these new realities need to be taken into account.
As school districts and educational institutions across the United States were hastily pivoting to virtual learning environments to close out the current school year, top education officials reportedly were sounding an early warning that a potential lingering of the COVID-19 threat could extend remote learning into the coming fall and winter.
Amid wholesale school closures, and the possibility that those closures could continue into the 2020-2021 school year to curb further spread of the virus, education officials were prioritizing remote learning capabilities.
“I’m really focusing much of our resources on the expansion and accountability wrapped around online learning and distance learning,” Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon told Maryland lawmakers, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Making remote learning accessible, user-friendly, reliable and secure for students and teachers for however long brick-and-mortar schools remain closed, and doing so in a matter of weeks, is no easy task for a school district or institution and its IT department.
But as scores of districts around the country are demonstrating (and as we at Windstream Enterprise have been witnessing firsthand in our work with education clients), a robust, well-protected remote learning program can be rolled out and sustained, provided several key digital infrastructure pieces and capabilities are in place, including:
By Daniel McGee, director of technology and library services, Laurel School.
Thus far, 2020 has been a year where the field of educational technology has been permanently altered. This year’s Covid-19 pandemic has brought challenges and confusion to daily life, with educational institutions pivoting to a distance learning model nearly overnight.
The impact of this shift has been far reaching, affecting the cadence and delivery of daily instruction, creating a new impetus for teachers to learn and upskill quickly.
The result is a watershed moment for educational technology that will cause ripple effects in education for this and future generations.
For private, independent schools, the conversations, processes, and procedures have been different from those affecting public schools, though the needs of students remain the same. In my role as an independent school technology director, the lessons of the past few months have been a series of dichotomous notions with a time for careful planning, while also being a time of flying by the seat of your pants; and notably, a time where rules are created, but also while basic tenets of educational technology are proving to be helpful guides. I have learned some essential lessons that are helpful now, and I see them as being helpful in perpetuity.
Lesson One: Select Familiar Tools and Technology
The first lesson is focused on the importance of educational technology leaders to select distance learning tools and topics that are familiar to teachers and students. Having a minimum of familiar, established systems for students, teachers, and families to access lowers the barriers to success and allows students to focus on learning what they need to know, not acclimating themselves to a host of new tools. During a pandemic is not an optimal time to introduce new tools if it can be avoided.
If a school has a learning management system (LMS) in place and is actively using it, it is a hard case to introduce a new system. The LMS is the stand-in for the physical classroom; just as physically moving a home or school is a disorienting process that requires acclimation, the virtual classroom environment fostered through the LMS should remain as consistent as possible.
Video meetings have become a staple of the distance learning experience. For schools using a suite of online productivity tools such as Google’s G Suite or Microsoft’s Office 365, using Meet or Teams lowers the barriers of entry for teachers and students to begin using such tools due to the integrated nature of these video services within the larger platform.
Consistency is key in using any online tool, first in the selection of a single, unified tool for the school to use, and second in its use and deployment. Experts in online learning advise the use of a common template for teachers to craft LMS course pages, and students should have a consistent means to access their virtual classrooms via the chosen video conferencing platform.
Shai Reshef, president of University of the People, an online, non-profit, tuition-free, American-accredited University, says: “Ready or not, COVID-19 has forced higher education online. Universities were ill-prepared to fully switch online and are all understandably frustrated at having to do so in just a few weeks, and even more so now that there is a possibility of remaining online until 2021.”
Reshef says that a big problem many universities are facing right now is that they have been forced to go online before they are ready. But moving to online instruction is tricky and if not implemented properly, instead of succeeding, the online classes may backfire and create major disappointments.
“Quality higher education online is more than just a live zoom class. Developing content and technique that works online takes time, and creating a quick fix for campus closures is going to be difficult,” he said. “At University of the People, we didn’t need to suddenly adapt to an online environment – we’ve been doing this for the past decade and have the infrastructure in place, and the pedagogy and experience in remote learning. For example, our instructors are experienced in teaching online, and are trained on how to address the unique challenges students will face, such as motivation, self-discipline, and the ability to learn alone.”
According to a University of the People/Harris Poll, nearly a third (31%) of Americans have experienced frustration with online schooling systems since the stay-home orders went into effect.
Responses by Dr. Yair Shapira, CEO and founder, AmplioSpeech.
What did school-based speech-language therapy look like before COVID-19?
More than 10% of all students suffer from speech-language deficits, and require therapy at some point during their K-12 journey. Until recently, most K-12 schools relied on in-person speech language therapy sessions with Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) hired and trained within the school district. Students would meet either individually or in small groups for face-to-face instruction and SLPs would track and measure progress using their subjective judgement; however, this can often lead to an inconsistent picture of students’ progress and performance.
These school-based SLPs often do not have access to speech-language-specific technologies, but instead utilize the district’s existing resources and the same technologies adopted in traditional classrooms. School-based speech-language therapy has always lagged behind traditional education when it comes to technological adoption, and there hasn’t been a widespread push by school districts to introduce novel technologies and platforms for speech-language students.
How has the pandemic changed the way schools approach speech-language services?
With the recent shift toward online learning caused by COVID-19, K-12 districts are now turning to speech language technologies and platforms such as AmplioSpeech to fill technology and organizational gaps in their speech-language services.
AmplioSpeech is a leading digital speech-language therapy provider that equips SLPs and their students with an AI-based platform for online and onsite therapy, to accelerate students’ progress, reduce SLPs workload, boost IEP compliance and automate documentation. The platform includes a library of smart and engaging practice materials and tools for self-monitoring, measurement, assignment completion, and more. Additionally, AmplioSpeech empowers SLPs to become intervention leaders and clinical decision-makers.
Speech-language students require targeted solutions to continue their progress in the shift to online learning, and are often ill-served by general-purpose services such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. In a current example, AmplioSpeech’s recent partnership with the Texas Education Agency has allowed SLPs across more than 100 Texas school systems to better service more than 10,000 speech-language students in the state while they stay home.
One of my biggest challenges in transitioning to online learning is maintaining consistency for students. They signed up for an in-person class at the beginning of the semester not an online class, so I tried to keep it as close to the in-person format as possible. Many of my colleagues have been using voice-over with Powerpoint slides or writing on a tablet, but I find that a bit too impersonal.
I have also been using an educational tool from Osmo called a “Reflector”–it is basically a mirror for my webcam. Right when classes started going online, Osmo came out with a free Projector App for iPad that allows their Reflector to be used as a projector [of my desktop]. This way, I can take the Osmo Reflector off of my camera and speak to my students face-to-face, then I can put it back on and write notes, answer questions, or pose problems for them to do. [i.e. They won’t see the professor’s writing notes as “backward writing” on the wall, like when you do using Face Time.]
Furthermore, I use 3-D models in my chemistry course, and I wouldn’t be able to utilize these if I were only in a Powerpoint or tablet format. The Osmo Projector App makes online interactions feel more like a normal class, and many of my students have commented that it made the online transition much smoother than other courses.
In terms of adjustments I had to make in the transition to online teaching, I have had to omit certain assignments from my course because of the online format. Since I teach biochemistry lab, there are some experiments that the students simply cannot do from home.
Instead, I give them “fake data” and challenge them to write lab reports as if they had done the experiment themselves. Regardless of any changes, I still have high expectations for my students. The courses that I teach are preparing them for more challenging courses, and they will be expected to know this material in future semesters.
A new online math learning program from McGraw Hill makes it easy and affordable for students and adult learners to prepare for their math placement test, get extra help over the summer, or refresh their skills before returning to college.
ALEKS MathReady is a direct-to-student version of McGraw Hill’s personalized ALEKS program that is used by millions of K-12 and college students to accelerate their math learning and help them succeed in their courses. It is $9.95 for the first month, $24.95 for three months, and $19.95 for each additional month after that.
For students entering college, math placement and college level math courses can be a challenge and are among the contributing reasons that students fall behind or drop out. College math courses often have high failure rates, largely because many new college students lack the foundational math skills needed to be successful. For some, a trusted tutor is a proven model for learning math and reducing math anxiety, yet the high cost of tutoring and scheduling tutorial sessions are barriers. ALEKS MathReady is an affordable alternative for those who are looking for math support.
ALEKS MathReady is a self-paced, online math learning program that is rooted in research and analytics. ALEKS efficiently guides learning by identifying what topics students don’t know and then focusing them on practicing topics they are ready to learn next. With this personalized learning approach, students learn and retain topics efficiently with real-time feedback to keep them motivated and engaged, while reaching their goals.
By Melinda Kong, director of instructional design and learning management system, Nyack College
As we emerge from the last few months of the sudden online teaching shift for courses intended for classroom settings, there are a few glaring lessons learned that will help propel educators forward into the future. While much is still unknown for what the next several months will hold, it is certain that online classwork will be a predominant feature in education.
The methods of online teaching will look different within each education context from K12 to higher education, but one thing is certain; online learning is here to stay and we must adapt to the needs of current and incoming students.
We will likely see a mix of three offerings when thinking about the new normal of distanced learning; the continued implementation of hybrid courses, full fall terms taught online-only, and even HyFlex courses, in which students will be able to be in either face-to-face classes or join virtually when needed.
As educators, it’s important to look at what happened as courses were quickly moved online and learn from what was able to be accomplished. Understanding what worked well and what didn’t will help all educators grow and adopt better pedagogy for online instruction.
Foundationally all courses, despite their delivery makeup, involve diligent planning. All teachers, whether in a face-to-face classroom, online course, or a mix of the two, plan extensively for their courses.
Like everything else post-COVID-19, schools are going to look different this fall. As teachers, we are grappling with that fact and trying to determine exactly how we will help our students come September. Will in-person classroom instruction resume? If so, will wide spaces between desks suffice, or will districts rely on staggered schedules to keep COVID at bay? Will cafeterias and playgrounds remain closed, and what could take their place?
While the future remains uncertain, we can count on one thing: distance learning will remain a part of the plan. Fortunately, this time around, educators have time and experience on their side. Following a tough transition period for most schools, Summer break provides the perfect opportunity to evaluate, invest in, and enhance school-wide PD and distance learning programs.
Educators can use this time to heighten their professional development by taking an online course that helps them transfer their skills from the classroom to a virtual classroom setting. As leaders in teacher training, Professional Learning Board responded to the stay-at-home orders by providing a free, five-hour course, giving teachers the tools they need to succeed in a virtual classroom.
In districts across the country, several common problems have slowed, even prevented, consistent learning this past semester. The priority needs to focus on these important areas:
Removing barriers to equity in remote learning. Every student and instructor needs access to a device and reliable connectivity at home.Some cities have developed partnerships with foundations and technology companies to provide free high-speed internet access to families, and a congressional measure to make it more widely and consistently available is on the table.