Large School Districts Can Make the Most of Virtual Classrooms Too
Small and rural school districts aren’t alone in launching virtual classrooms, thanks to new collaboration and networking tools.
The master plan developed by the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) identifies virtual classrooms and blended learning opportunities as critical resources for personalized instruction.
“We’re focusing on cultivating collaboration and communications skills, critical thinking and creativity in our students,” CTO Melissa Dodd says. “To do that, we must provide opportunities for them to engage in rich tech environments, which is what they’ll encounter after they graduate and move into their professions.”
Virtual classrooms not only provide well-stocked environments for the general student population, they also help SFUSD address specific needs. About 350 students use virtual classrooms to revisit classes they previously failed or for which they received poor grades.
To break up networking bottlenecks that otherwise stymie videoconferencing activities, SFUSD replaced outdated firewalls with next-generation firewalls from Palo Alto Networks. The district also will upgrade its core network with new switches from Cisco Systems in the upcoming school year.
SFUSD takes advantage of Zoom, a cloud-based videoconferencing system, and Google Hangouts to support videoconferencing in classrooms.
“Our digital learning tools promote engagement among the teachers who lead online courses, along with facilitators in the physical classes and the students,” Dodd says.
Videoconferencing Bolsters Student Opportunities
While going virtual with an entire class can seem daunting, students also see an increase in learning experiences by just adding a dash of videoconferencing.
The use of tools like Skype lets students engage with other cultures and talk to experts they otherwise wouldn't get to engage with.
In addition to the possibility of using video to offer specialized classes to students, some school districts have also made use of videoconferencing tools to allow students to explore their interests. At Shawnee Mission School District, students were able to connect with a doctor to learn about childhood illnesses and explore how liver disease could impact children their age.
"Access to video can give the students an added dimension to learning that they've never had before," says Shawnee's assistant superintendent of innovation and performance, Christy Ziegler.
For more on how videoconferencing and virtual classrooms can improve student learning in remote regions, take a look at our Fall 2017 magazine feature.