In an ideal world, K–12 educators would have a perfect digital learning environment sitting at the ready. A digital learning environment that—with just the touch of a button—would spin into action and keep teachers connected with students, parents, administrators, and staff in the event remote learning became the new norm. Just think about it—everyone could get work done easily and securely, from anywhere. Education and learning could continue, without skipping a beat, and it would adapt to the educator’s style of teaching.
However, in the real world, it is not always that easy or elegant. So what can K–12 educators expect when they are abruptly thrust into remote learning without efficient plans in place? Panic! Clutch pearls! We are in for a bumpy ride! It’s common to impulsively grab the first free video software you find online or try a tool someone mentioned as cool, but doesn’t actually give the flexibility that is needed to impart ideas and creativity with fluidity. Instead of quickly rushing to free and limited, let us take a step back and consider all the different ways you’re going to need to communicate with your students, parents, peers, administrators, and partners. Look at what is most important to the learning experience.
Being able to quickly and smoothly transition to a remote learning environment boils down to finding a technology solution with communications capabilities that are simple, user-friendly, connected to your most important education apps, and enabled for remote-learning initiatives. The good news is that cloud technologies make it remarkably easy for educators to deploy remote learning solutions that go well beyond online meetings tools (Note: Learn more about how K-12 educators can use RingCentral Office® for free for remote learning).
Here are five factors to consider when selecting a remote learning solution.
Creating an effective remote learning environment starts with the basics. Digital learning is about so much more than just online meetings—multiple communication modes serve as viable learning channels, including texting and messaging, sharing apps, video, voice, and body language cues. The ideal technology solution consolidates all apps into one integrated platform for seamless connectivity across desktop and mobile.
Why is this important? Using multiple disconnected applications to communicate and collaborate keeps discussions in silos. As people switch from one app to another, each conversation—and overall context—ends as well, wasting time and decreasing productivity.
A single application for messaging, video, and phone help keep the context of each conversation and workflow in sync. It keeps each mode of communication—as well as relevant documents and links—in one central space where context is maintained, and newcomers to the discussion get immediate background on what’s been said and done before.
When all of your communications and collaboration apps are on one platform, students, staff, faculty, and administrators can stay connected and share information quickly and easily: instructors can launch video meetings with students to teach lessons; faculty members and trustees can make conference calls; and advisors can hold office hours—anytime, anywhere, from any device. Plus, all parties have their very own business phone numbers with SMS texting capabilities, which allows everyone to be reachable without having to give out their personal cell phone numbers.
On a practical note, students, parents, teachers, and administrators need a service that’s easy to set up and manage. Choosing a cloud-based communications platform that can deploy rapidly is a no-brainer. Easy-to-use features plus a simple implementation process—once you plug it into an internet connection, it’s ready to go—is hard to beat. Ask potential providers if they have experience successfully meeting aggressive deployment timelines for school districts.
When learning remotely, the possibility of distractions is enormous, so make sure your learning solution offers HD audio and video conferencing and online meeting options and also supports a variety of conversations, including both scheduled meetings and ad hoc discussions. Particularly for educators who are trying to hold students’ attention, it’s essential to ensure clear audio and video without technology trip-ups. Look for solutions that are reliable with few service outages. Ask potential providers about their Service Level Agreements, and preferably look for 99.999% reliability.
Also look for features such as screen-sharing and annotations, which are especially important for educators. Working across all devices, teachers can share their entire screens or simply one application with students. Students can also easily share their screens while fellow students annotate as the meeting continues.
Keep everyone connected with a mobile-first group messaging solution—preferably one that’s connected to your video meetings and business phone as part of a single integrated solution—that provides real-time messaging, document/file sharing, and seamless collaboration with staff, faculty, recruits, and students.
Just like with video meetings, a variety of group messaging and chat apps exist—some of which are free—but think twice before signing up. Do you really want to bring yet another separate technology app into the mix? Especially if they’re difficult to learn how to use or don’t integrate with other popular tools, another new technology tool can end up being a major roadblock to your ultimate goal: getting everyone on board with remote learning, quickly.
Finally, make sure your learning solution plays well with the tools and applications teachers use most. Look for a unified communications and collaboration platform that integrates seamlessly with learning management systems (LMS) such as Canvas and Google Classroom and ideally offers out-of-the-box integrations with popular cloud applications like G Suite, Office 365, and Okta. After all, you want to be able to work within the core tools that you use every day without a glitch.
Transitioning from in-class learning to a digital environment can be the right decision to make for faculty, staff, and students. As long as institutions consider the above points, they’ll find the right solution. A truly unified cloud communications platform that integrates video, voice, and group messaging creates a single knowledge repository, helps people get up to speed quickly, and helps maintain context as users move from one mode to another. Selecting and setting up the right technology solution now will keep your school connected today and well into the future.