How to use emerging tech and fruitful content to create online engagement

Thoughtful content and emerging technologies lead teachers to successful virtual classes.
By: | February 8, 2021
Paul Richards is Director of Marketing at PTZOptics and HuddelCamHD.

As schools adjust to the difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers are navigating the new world of virtual and hybrid learning. These challenges have disrupted the normal teaching model, especially in the K-12 education sector. Education leaders are working hard to create engaging classes in virtual settings without overwhelming students. Education as we know it will continue to change in the years to come, but teachers can use technology to keep students engaged with content.

When it comes to designing the approach to virtual learning, teachers need to focus on the order of operations. The first step to a successful and engaging virtual classroom is the content. Identify what students should complete first, and then choose the most natural tools to accomplish those tasks. During math class, for example, students should be able to show their work as they solve problems. Is this modeling, guided practice, independent practice, or assessment? Each of these scenarios will require a different tool.

When modeling the process of solving an equation, teachers may use document cameras to show the steps while talking through the thought process. When students view content on laptops and other mobile devices, it can be challenging, but a document camera will magnify objects or writing, making them easier to see on whichever device students use for virtual learning. At the same time, the teacher using a document camera is simply writing on a piece of paper just as they would on a chalkboard or overhead projector transparency.

For guided practice, annotation tools in Zoom can also take the place of a classroom whiteboard or chalkboard. This virtual whiteboard allows students to take control of the content from home. For independent practice or assessment, teachers can create interactive worksheets that use drag and drop or fill in the blank– or simply ask students to use a pencil and paper to write down their work and hold it up for their webcams when complete.

Technology in the classroom is not good or bad, only useful or not useful. Even devices, such as cell phones and tablets that were previously banned for in-person learning, can help students engage with specific areas of content. These can be valuable tools for research and collaboration. Teachers today also have access to a wide variety of technologies and learning apps when planning lessons. If they start first with the content and then choose the tool that allows that content to be delivered most naturally, students will be engaged and eager to learn.

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After content comes the audiovisual aspect of online learning. Again, order of operations is important. Prioritizing audio is essential. If students can hear every word the teacher says—even without a camera—they are still having class. It may be boring, but it’s happening. If students can see the teacher perfectly, but not hear them, they are likely unable to gain any value from that lesson. If they haven’t already, teachers and school districts should consider investing in quality microphones and, if necessary, acoustic treatments such as soundbars.

Video comes next in the classroom order of operations but coming third doesn’t mean it‘s unimportant. Seeing each other’s faces, expressions, and movements is critical to natural interaction. Depending on the content and environment, a built-in laptop webcam may not be up to the task. The teacher may need finer detail, better light/color control, or even zoom and tracking capabilities. Again, this is driven by content – a dance or art class has different visual requirements than a math class.

As teachers continue to adapt to the challenges of virtual instruction, it’s critical for them to embrace the tools that can be utilized to create and distribute appealing content for remote students. By setting the right technology priorities during virtual instruction, teachers can create and deliver interesting lessons that absorb online students’ attention and encourage their participation.

Paul Richards is the director of Business Development for HuddleCamHD and PTZOptics and author of an all-new mini book, “Technology Tools for Online Education.The book and corresponding 4-hour blended learning Udemy course teach education leaders how to connect with students using online communications.