Determining a timeline for when higher education will go back to “normal” is an aimless guessing game. Will it be weeks? Months? Years? For colleges and universities, the sudden shift away from traditional classroom spaces has upended typical teaching tactics. Even schools with minimal online infrastructure must now deliver distance learning at scale.
For educators who are tech-savvy (and those who are not) to make this transition and develop curricula that support student success, the right resources are critical. Many major software providers, from Microsoft to Google and Cisco, have stepped up to streamline the process: Powerful proprietary tools are suddenly budget-friendly, or in some cases, free.
But affordable doesn’t mean necessary or even advantageous. Here’s what higher education experts need to know about the education technology at their disposal, including definitions, use cases, key operations and potential pitfalls.
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Classroom Management Tools Help to Ensure Robust Learning Experiences
What they are: Management tools include market leader Google Classroom, along with solutions such as Top Hat and Kahoot!. These tools let educators create assignments, present slides, host live discussions and integrate third-party teaching applications such as Classcraft or Pear Deck.
Where they fit: Classroom management tools are designed to streamline the process of creating and deploying lesson plans, projects and assignments. Most are cloud-based, meaning users don’t need to install new hardware or download large software packages. Teachers can invite students to join digital classrooms and then post assignments, share quizzes or set up virtual office hours.
Potential pitfalls: Classroom management tools are crucial for developing robust online learning experiences. The caveat? Ubiquity and privacy don’t always go hand in hand. While popular solutions make it easy to connect with students, the public-facing nature of these resources requires robust oversight of student data to ensure personally identifiable information remains private.
Collaboration and Administration Tools Can Streamline Communication and Improve Teamwork
What they are: These tools facilitate the sharing of information between educators, administrators and students. Solutions like Raftr provide public and private chat channels, while Bisk delivers strategy planning at scale. Meanwhile, popular enterprise tool Microsoft Teams makes it easy to schedule meetings, assign tasks and collaborate on key documents.
Where they fit: These tools underpin online classroom functionality at scale. They essentially function as infrastructure, allowing administrators and educators to schedule meetings and to design long-term assignment and testing strategies. They also help classroom teachers coordinate online lesson plans.
Potential pitfalls: Identity and access are critical. Who has permission to create channels, control content and connect students across collaborative documents? When it comes to administration options, the best bet for post-secondary schools is a zero-trust model. Proactively gating access permits granular control, especially compared with broad permissions that create a reactive environment and increase overall risk. Consider also deploying two-factor authentication for both students and staff. This second layer of access control reduces the chance of account compromise.
Video Chat Solutions Can Enable Face-to-Face Experiences
What they are: Video chat solutions empower multimedia connections: Staff and students can see and hear each other, teachers can share slides and documents, and schools can bolster a sense of campus community. Popular tools currently offering cost-effective options include Cisco WebEx and Zoom.
Where they fit: These tools streamline sharing and connection. Participants can see and hear each other, add backgrounds, share screens and chat on demand. Video solutions offer the closest analog for traditional classroom learning. Many tools allow the chat owner to control who can speak, what is shared and when a meeting ends.
Potential pitfalls: Video chat solutions typically require an application download, which introduces potential security risks including malware, ransomware and advanced persistent threats. As a result, it’s critical for post-secondary schools to regularly evaluate current solutions and deploy options that limit risk. For example, virtual private networks can reduce the chance of unwanted eavesdroppers, while regular anti-virus and anti-malware scans can detect malicious code.