CONSIDERATIONS FOR DIGITAL INSTRUCTION
This information is intended as a general framework and should not be considered an official directive from NCDPI.
Continue to focus on professional and educational best practices when approaching online learning! While the format and circumstances around emergency remote learning are different than in a physical classroom, it's essential to rely on existing pedagogical and content knowledge to adapt to the situation. Below are some considerations for planning remote learning needs, including various methods, tools, and best practices from across the state and nation.
From the Friday Institute
In alignment with NCDPI and the NC State Board of Education’s mission and vision, the Friday Institute has developed Instructional Principles for Remote Teaching & Learning, which are designed to provide guidance for student learning across North Carolina when state, national, or international crises impede students from learning in their regular school setting.
North Carolina PSUs utilize a wide variety of learning and/or content management systems — far too many to list here! The most important consideration is that teachers, students, and even parents have a central location for accessing digital instructional materials, assignments, assessments, and other resources. See our Learning Management Systems page for more information on two of the most popular LMS solutions used in North Carolina: Canvas and Google Classroom.
The biggest point here is to leverage an LMS to avoid confusion! Keep all communications, assignments, and instructional materials in a single standardized system. Links to materials, class meetings via online meeting platforms like Zoom or Google Hangouts, and other resources should be posted in the LMS rather than scattered across separate emails, systems, or websites.
Ensure all stakeholders are aware of the expectations for online learning by considering PSU-level standards for:
Common procedures & formatting across a school or district.
Availability and office hours.
Alignment across grade levels.
Designing for both mobile and desktop devices.
Expectations for teachers without Internet access at home.
How and where to log in.
Expectations for time spent online.
Time-bound deadlines for assignments and access.
Expectations for supported devices & tech support.
Resources to support their students.
Information about and even access to the systems utilized.
Expectations and alternate options for homes without Internet or devices.
Videos — both pre-recorded and live streamed — can be a powerful tool for online instruction! Some of the best instructional videos follow these guidelines:
Keep it short! If using pre-recorded video, consider breaking it into bite-sized pieces. Experienced online, flipped, or blended educators use a guideline of 1 minute of video for each grade or year in school. If using live streaming, be sure to keep it interesting. Plan online instruction in short segments — a few minutes of direct instruction followed by interactive segments.
Build in interactivity! It's easy for students to tune out during a long instructional video — whether it's prerecorded or live streamed. Consider using a tool like Edpuzzle to check for understanding while students watch the video, or have them create a project or turn in the notes they've taken while watching.
Teacher-created videos. There are benefits to teachers creating videos for their own students using tools like Screencastify. Many learners report that they enjoy hearing and seeing their own teachers, and many teachers enjoy the ability to teach online using their own methods, vocabulary, and approach. That said, don't expect perfection on a teacher-created video! Sometimes quirks can even make videos more engaging for students.
Video conferencing platforms are available and can have a huge impact on the efficacy of remote learning. However, there are important security and safety considerations that must be top of mind when implementing a remote learning program. Student safety must be the first consideration — especially when students are using PSU-owned devices or hotspots. In addition, remember that students should not be required to attend long virtual lecture sessions. Teachers should also remember to consider students social-emotional wellness when running video conferencing sessions. While requiring all students to turn their camera on is a good way to ensure students are paying attention, in times like these it may create stigma or discomfort for some students depending on their home situations.
The Canvas LMS includes video conferencing functionality as a core feature. This is one of the safest ways to offer a video conferencing solution. However, a major drawback is lack of support for users on iOS or iPadOS. Read more about Canvas Conferences.
Microsoft Teams is another option for remote class meetings. The main advantage to Teams is its tight integration with Office 365 for PSUs who utilize that platform. A Teams meeting can support up to 250 participants.
Google Hangouts Meet
Google Hangouts Meet’s biggest strength is its tight integration with other Google products such as Calendar and Classroom. Additionally, it can dynamically add closed-captioning to a virtual meeting. As of March 19th, 2020 Google Hangouts Meet is a relatively safe platform for remote learning. However, it is critical to ensure proper configuration of Hangouts Meet in the GSuite Console to ensure only teachers are able to mute or remove other meeting participants. Additionally, training should be provided to teachers on ensuring virtual meeting rooms cannot be re-joined by unsupervised students after the meeting host ends the session.
Setting up a Google Hangout / Meeting (from Mooresville Graded School District)
Google Meet: How to Keep Students from Joining Without You (shared by Catawba County Schools)
One of the biggest strengths of Zoom is that sessions can only be joined when the host initiates them, and there are options for joining Zoom meetings from a web browser, ChromeOS device, iOS device, Mac, PC, or telephone. However, a drawback is that students can register their own accounts and spin up their own virtual meetings. This is a major concern in regards to student safety. Additionally, NCDIT has advised that Zoom presents security risks that make it unsuitable for use by state agencies. PSUs may still utilize Zoom, but should consider the following at minimum to help mitigate security concerns:
Set common virtual class times across the PSU and set time-bound blocks for Zoom in a remote web filter such as Zscaler.
Zscaler and many other web filters can block specific pages hosted on a particular URL. Consider blocking https://zoom.us/signup to prevent students from creating accounts.
If you are using a paid Zoom subscription, provision free-tier accounts for students, require sign-in to join meetings (so students must log in with their school accounts), use a waiting room to prevent students from joining a meeting after it has ended, lock meetings once all of your students have joined, and change role-based access control to prevent students from creating new meetings.
Additional Zoom resources:
Equity for all students must be at the forefront of a successful remote learning plan. Keep in mind that some students may not be able to access the Internet or even have a device at all. Other students may have unreliable or slow Internet connections or other technical difficulties. Remote learning may sometimes need to happen offline.
Try to plan coursework that can be downloaded and completed offline. It may be necessary in some cases to deliver printed materials via mail or school bus couriers. While digital activities make remote learning easier, it's not always necessary or appropriate to do everything online.
Activities don't necessarily have to be digital! Design lessons that allow students to be engaged within their own environments. Hands-on activities keep learners engaged — consider activities like nature walks, family read alongs, simple science experiments, art projects, or PE challenges. These are available to almost every student and don't require a device or connectivity. Students can submit reflections and artifacts back to teachers either online or via mail, school bus couriers, or a physical drop-box if needed.
Alongside equity for students without Internet access, keep in mind also equity for students with disabilities. The resources linked below provide many valuable general guidelines for designing online instructional content that is sensitive to the needs of all students.