ICT · Online Learning · Teaching

Why is remote teaching software rubbish?

Necessity is the mother of invention.

Our schools shut down on Tuesday, March 24th.

We had to find a way to teach remotely.

We have used moodle for years as our LMS (Learning Management System) so asynchronous lessons for all but the practical subjects would be a doddle.

Largely they have been. We’ve had no problems delivering learning activities to students and monitoring if they are being completed. We are able to see how often students are logging on. 95% of our students are logging in to our LMS every day.

We wanted to keep some face to face teaching going.

During the shutdown, we are delivering:

  • ⅓ face to face teaching via video conferencing software,
  • ⅓ tutorial time where the teacher is available to video conference and answer questions,
  • ⅓ of the time students will be working independently on learning activities set by the teachers.

In the space of a week in March, we tried 5 different video conferencing tools.

To be honest, I think they are all rubbish.

Teaching is about interaction. Teaching is not lecturing. Teaching is not attending a meeting.

Teaching includes:

  1. The teacher talking to the whole class,
  2. The teacher talking to a small group of the class,
  3. The teacher talking privately to an individual student,
  4. The student talking to the whole class,
  5. The student talking to a small group of the class,
  6. The student talking privately to another student.

In live teaching, you are seamlessly able to facilitate all these forms of communication. You can even do chorale response where everyone is talking to everyone at the same time. Try doing that online!

Surely some educational software guru can develop a way to better facilitate online teaching.

We are currently teaching via Webex and it does allow for 1 and 4 (above) reasonably easily.

Using the chat features you can do 3 and 6 but only in text form. This is slow and requires some tweaking of the chat settings. When explaining a detailed math problem, text conversation is limiting.

Group work is very difficult to facilitate. Webex does not do breakout rooms. Zoom is superior here.

The simplest and most effective group task, “Think, pair-share” is almost impossible to do in real-time in the online classroom.

Mini whiteboards have been a revelation for many teachers recently. I’ve come to them late and I’m hooked. You can tweak the chat settings in Webex to simulate mini whiteboards. But it is slow and tedious and only allows for text. Not great for art, maths, or science.

Dear Zoom, Webex, Teams, Google Meet,  here are a couple of buttons I need.

Mute all including instructor and unblock.

Students need to be able to talk to the teacher without the rest of the class being able to hear. I’d click this button then click on the students I want to talk to privately. Eg I notice that Billy and Frank have no idea what is going on and need additional assistance. I would click the “Mute all including instructor and unblock” button. Then I’d click Billy and Frank. “Righto guys let me explain this a different way.” I would be unmuted and so would Billy and Frank. The rest of the class would be muted and they would also not hear what we are saying. I’m finding many students are very reluctant to ask for help as they know everyone in the class will hear that they are struggling. In class, you often have to ask the student to explain their thinking. When their thinking is wrong they get embarrassed if everyone can hear. You need the ability to talk in private within the online classroom.

Auto group mode

When you click this Auto Group button it will prompt you to nominate the size of the group. For something like “think pair share” you, the presenter, put in the number 2. The software randomly groups the participants in groups of two. It unmutes everyone, turns on their cameras but each group of two can only hear the others in the group. They can’t hear anyone in the other groups. It would be ideal if the presenter could “Talk over all groups.” or “Talk within a group” This Auto group feature needs to be able to be ended with the click of a button ie End Auto Group Mode

Mini Whiteboard Mode.

When you click this each student’s screen turns into a mini whiteboard. They can type, draw, or do whatever on the screen. As the presenter, you can see a thumbnail view of each of the student’s whiteboard on your screen. You can click on it to make it full screen. You can share it with the rest of the class, You can annotate it yourself. The awesome Mr Barton podcast mentioned a Mini Whitebord workaround. Try desmos.com. 

I realize that Zoom, Webex, Teams and Meet are built around business meetings, not classroom instruction. There is a market there for a better teaching tool.

I’m available to consult.

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