Quickstart guide to quality remote classroom experiences

by Jason Breed, Co-founder and CEO, Digital Futures Initiative

As schools close and teaching goes remote, many schools and teachers have been caught off-guard and have been asked to start teaching classrooms remotely.  Many of the video conferencing tools we see were built for business collaboration and some tools have hidden security issues to consider.  Most could work for remote classroom / distance learning, however they are not created for that use case.  In response, we have put together a quick start guide to help teachers and schools consider solutions that are more conducive than others whether simple video lectures, more advanced collaborative projects and even technical solutions for remote Computer Labs.  Below are some ideas to help get you started in the right direction.

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What to stay away from

A quick go-to we are seeing is Skype, Facetime and Facebook Messenger – all work well for 1on1 conversations but start to quickly degrade when attempting entire class discussions.

The big video conferencing tools in the market were set up for business use.  Zoom, GoToMeeting, RingCentral, ClickMeeting, ZohoMeeting, Join.me and others are all designed for business use and may be suitable as a work-around, however some lack the security and privacy tools needed for underage use. While many of these traditional conferencing solutions are easy to use and many are free at the classroom level, there are other ready-made solutions that are more appropriate for long-term school use.

Safety and privacy are paramount.  With any tool that has the feature, we recommend using unique meeting codes and passwords – especially for classrooms.

An example of a tool you should not use is Zoom.  Zoom’s security settings are not adequate and there are privacy concerns that videos and images are being captured.  Do not use in the short term if you can avoid.  Videos are not currently encrypted and emails and photos are being leaked due to a software setting.  We believe these issues will get fixed at some point, but for now do not use in the classroom.

 If you have to use Zoom, create a password for every meeting: go to the “Meetings” tab, clicking the “Edit” button under your personal meeting ID, checking the “Require meeting password” checkbox, and then entering a password to use for your meetings. The steps are similar on the mobile app.

What to use

For “Google Schools”

For Remote Classrooms – Use Google Meet – https://support.google.com/a/answer/9784550

G Suite for Education has Meet turned on automatically.

Google Hangouts – encourage students to collaborate on Hangouts – with the right security settings

Features – https://support.google.com/edu/classroom/thread/32576916?hl=en

Meetings are encrypted and should be safe to use for teachers and students.  The biggest issue is individual account security settings.  Students should be advised to set their security to not allow invites from unknown people. 

For “Microsoft Schools”

Use Microsoft Teams for Education – https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/education/products/teams

Again, meetings are encrypted and data privacy is a priority.  Like the full G-Suite, Microsoft suite offers a number of collaboration and co-working options with documents and assignments.

To set up – https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/education/deploy/set-up-teams-for-education.

For uncommitted schools or more technical requirements (ie: remote computer labs) 

Try AWS Educate – https://aws.amazon.com/education/awseducate/

It’s easy to set up quickly at a class level and comes with a number of templates to get started with.  Chime is a simple-to-use remote classroom tool along with Amazon Workspaces for a consistent “desktop” that can be used on personal devices and consider Amazon AppStream for virtual computer labs.

Additionally, Blackboard for K-12 (specifically Blackboard Collaborate) is a good, secure option – mostly if your school or district has it set up already.  Starting at $9,000/year it is more expensive than other options listed however it is the most feature rich for the long term for remote classrooms. https://go.blackboard.com/buycollab?utm_source=bbcorp&utm_campaign=accelerating_collab&utm_content=product_page_cta#registerAnchor

Try Canvas If you are looking for more of a learning management platform to post recorded lessons, run quizzes/tests to access and work on your own time https://www.instructure.com/canvas/k-12

As with any tool, you need to choose the right solution for your particular need.  We recommend following district guidelines first.  If you have additional questions, feel free to reach out at Info@DFiNow.org and we will do our best to help.

Stay safe and healthy!

Digital Futures Initiative (DFi)

Our mission is to empower educators, parents and communities to help kids and adolescents make better decisions and take control of the technology in their lives.

DFi provides tools and training programs for educators, law enforcement (SRO’s) and parents to teach children how to become good digital citizens. Our curriculum covers topics including cyberbullying, sexting, online predators, substance use, loss of emotional intelligence, distracted driving and more.

Digital Futures Initiative (DFi) was created to deliver digital life skills to students and parents in an innovative, engaging way. Lessons are designed by curating the best and most current content available in the world and the curriculum is made available for FREE to any school, county or group who needs it. The program includes all of the self-paced online training, Powerpoint presentations, images, videos, presenter’s notes, and fun, in-class activities built for the classroom.

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