Tue Mar 31, 2020 | | Charter School Insights, Covid-19, Education, Technology

Distance Learning and Video Conferencing


distance learning

Only a few short weeks ago, most video conferencing- whether by Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, Google Meet, Google Hangouts and other platforms- were not frequently used by students and teachers.  With the closure of schools, these video conferencing platforms and other platform-based learning tools have quickly become the way millions of students communicate with their teachers and each other as the classroom has transitioned from the school building to desktops, laptops, tablets and phones (when available—unfortunately many students do not have access to the hardware and internet access they need) at kitchen tables, dining room tables and whatever real estate students can find while jockeying for space with their parents, many of whom are using similar tools now that they are not in their offices either. 

Only a few short weeks ago, most video conferencing- whether by Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, Google Meet, Google Hangouts, and other platforms- were not frequently used by students and teachers.  With the closure of schools, these video conferencing platforms and other platform-based learning tools have quickly become the way millions of students communicate with their teachers and each other as the classroom has transitioned from the school building to desktops, laptops, tablets and phones (when available—unfortunately many students do not have access to the hardware and internet access they need) at kitchen tables, dining room tables and whatever real estate students can find while jockeying for space with their parents, many of whom are using similar tools now that they are not in their offices either. 

While teachers and administrators were able to quickly and adeptly pivot to create and push out content so learning could continue with school buildings closed, several unanticipated challenges have arisen in connection with the use of video conferencing.  The following are examples of some of those challenges and a few tips for keeping the video conferencing-based classroom environment safe, secure, manageable and compliant.

“Zoombombing” 

A derivate of the well-known “photobombing” and perhaps a term that existed prior to this pandemic, but it has taken on new meaning- and concern- in connection with distance learning.  Zoombombing is when someone either guesses and unsecured meeting ID on Zoom (or another similar platform) and is able to join without permission and disrupt the class in session, whether by announcing their presence, sharing their screen with inappropriate images from websites (e.g. porn) or of themselves, as happened here and here.   Here are a few tips to avoid these unexpected events when preparing for and hosting video conferences with students: 

  • Don’t allow the student to join before the host of the video conference and password protect the conference, sending the passcode to intended participants with a note not to share the passcode with others;
  • Don’t allow others to share files or their screens;
  • If you have a co-teacher, colleague or administrator, allow them to be a co-host so they can assist with moderating (and removing unauthorized users); and
  • Make sure you select the option that prohibits participants who are removed from rejoining

Disruptive Behavior

While video conferencing is a unique classroom environment, it is still a classroom environment and a school’s code of conduct/discipline code still applies.  Whether the issues are students inviting friends from other schools to join a video conference, sharing or accessing inappropriate information during a conference (or using a platform such as Google Classroom), behavior covered by the New York Dignity for All Students Act or other behavior that would generally subject a student to discipline if they were physically in the school building (or engaging in behavior outside of the school building on social media or otherwise that follows students back into the school building), students (and their parents/guardians) should be reminded that students are expected to conduct themselves in accordance with the school’s expectations, code of conduct and the law.  For more on creating a contract covering the use of technology and platforms, please see here.

Privacy Considerations

Aside from Zoombombing or students inviting people outside of the school to join video conferences by sharing access information, schools should consider how they share information that is recorded during these sessions (and consider if sessions should be recorded) and where and how such information (including student images, names, voices, etc.) is accessible.  While the use of video conferencing in this distance learning period may be new, a school should continue to rely on its general policies (e.g. social media policies), any media release/waivers that a school may have families sign as well as the directory information opt-out notification under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that schools typically send at the beginning of each school year, both of which assist with FERPA and other privacy-related compliance.            

While distance learning supported by video conferencing may not replace or replicate in-classroom instruction, it is an important tool that schools will likely continue to utilize long after the current need for distance learning is behind us, and with a few precautions and cooperation from students and parents, the technology can continue to benefit and enhance learning opportunities.