Why Classroom Video Conferencing Isn’t Like Other Video Conferencing and what We can do about it

Dov Friedman, The Founder of CirQlive
Dov Friedman, The Founder of CirQlive

Dov Friedman, The Founder of CirQlive

For most of the history of teaching, student engagement was easy to assess. If you were teaching, your students were right in front of you. All you had to do was observe whether they were paying attention, involved. Teachers could modulate student engagement through tactics of presentation such as inflection, volume, direct questioning, posture, humour or more dramatic means. For example, I had a teacher in high school who, if she saw a student was drifting away in algebra, would throw chalk at their heads. It worked.

That may feel extreme, but students like it when teachers are engaging. No one likes boring or laborious. Think, for example, of the best teacher you ever had. Now think of the worst. Odds are, one of the big differences was their teaching demeanour, their classroom manner. Captivating versus Naptivating.

Now, with online classes, teachers don’t share space with their students and, like we do in business boardrooms, we’ve accepted video conferencing as the next best thing to in person. 

  To get teachers to use video conferencing services, we have to make it easy and reliable 

That’s fine. Video conferencing works. And most of us have had similar experiences with video conferences. We get an e-mail with a link. We say “yes,” the appointment is added to a calendar and when the time arrives, we click a link, maybe enter a code and - bingo! - video.

As a result, we think video is easy. But in education, it’s simply not. Teachers can’t just cc students to join a video link and be done with it.

In education, there are rules, requirements, even laws about engaging with students. There are complicated challenges of scheduling with 30 people in 29 different places, on 15 different calendar and e-mail platforms. There are divergent notice and RSVP functions, student credentialing and attendance requirements and profound gaps between the video tools and the other systems we use to manage learning and coursework.  How would a teacher, for example, track participation on a video call with 45 students?

In addition to all that, teachers also have to do things like schedule video office hours, archive video conferences or connect to notes and outside resources, all while navigating a learning management system. In such a complicated, error-prone, disconnected reality, teachers simply don’t use video conferencing, which we know is the most post potent tool for student engagement in distance learning.

Which gets us here—we want high student engagement. To get it in online classes, we have to push video connectivity. To get teachers to use video conferencing services, we have to make it easy and reliable. In other words, if video is the glue that holds online education together, we need good glue to hold education video conferencing together.

It reminds me of when we were kids and most of us made art projects in school. Often, these refrigerator-bound masterpieces were concoctions of cut out paper and glue and we knew even then that you should not see the glue. It just needed to keep things together, unseen. Ideally, that’s how education video conferencing should work too.  

There's no reason teachers should have to cut out each piece of paper, slather the glue and hold it in place over and over again for each video opportunity. Teaching and engaging students is complicated enough already.

Schools, and especially those that rely on distance learning, need to deploy one-touch video products for teachers—the tools we expect and use every day in business. Teachers need tools that integrate with everything, including different platforms and the LMS or they simply won’t use them. Tools like that exist. By not providing them, we’re making teaching more complicated and, honestly, shortchanging students.

Students want to be engaged. They want to be able to ask questions, see other students. They want to feel they’re part of a learning community, share the learning and work experience. They’ll get more out of the classes they’re taking and register for more. And since you can’t throw chalk online (and really, don’t even throw chalk in person), we’ve got to up our video engagement game to the point where it’s as easy to schedule a video conference with students as it would be to walk across campus or use a whiteboard.

Dov Friedman, a former teacher, is the founder of CirQlive which developed MEETS, an integration tool used in education and business. CirQlive solves interoperability problems between critical technology in education and corporate learning.

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