Category AVI-SPL

Online Learning Best Practices for Educators

At AVI-SPL, we understand that the coronavirus outbreak is stressing your online learning systems, administrators, educators, and students. The educational system changed in a heartbeat. We’re here to help you fulfill your goal of delivering quality education to all students in these uncertain times.

Some educators may teach occasional online classes, while others are completely unfamiliar with teaching remotely. You can help make the transition to full-time remote teaching and learning easier by sharing our online learning best practices with your teachers. You’ll find our social share buttons at the end of the article.

Get to know your distance learning tech

It’s helpful to do a trial session before you deliver a live online class. Your organization may use a Learning Management System (LMS) or video conferencing platform to provide virtual classes. To get to know your system, rehearse a short session and record it. That way, you’ll be familiar with the tools you’ll need to deliver your class.

Test how to switch from the camera to sharing tools like screen sharing and interactive whiteboards. Here are some resources to get started with common platforms:

Get comfortable teaching higher ed classes online

If you’re new to teaching online classes, take time to get comfortable in front of the camera. Rehearse a short session and record it. Watching the recording can help you gauge the best distance to stand from the camera. Aim to get a “medium close-up” shot that shows you from the waist up.

You’ll also be able to tell if you have adequate lighting. You may need to move around the room, close shades, or bring an extra lamp into the space. Avoid standing in front of windows with bright light behind you, or you’ll show up in silhouette. If you’re at home, be mindful of what’s showing in the video behind you. Move any personal items such as family photos that you prefer not to share.

Consider that the camera represents your remote students. Make occasional eye contact with your students by looking at the camera while you’re speaking.

Keep remote college students engaged with video

Keep remote students engaged by breaking up distance learning sessions by sharing video. If your organization does not have enough video to use, check into free resources.  In response to coronavirus, TEDEd has launched TEDx@home, a daily newsletter that offers lessons for all ages, including university-level lessons with video. TedEd also provides online videos grouped into themes, like this video package on visualizing data.

Don’t forget YouTube can be a video resource too. A few channels with educational content to check out include National Geographic and NASA.

Ensure online lessons are accessible

Students with impaired vision or hearing may have tools that make working online easier for them. You can also help by designing online class materials that are accessible to everyone.

  • Verify that attendees can hear the sound in any videos that you play online. If closed captions are available, turn them on.
  • If you’re using PowerPoint slides, use the accessibility checker under the Review menu on the ribbon.
  • Provide handouts in formats that are compatible with screen readers. Microsoft Word files with text should not be a problem. Machines can read PDFs if they are created with accessibility in mind. Adobe offers a tool to create PDFs and verify accessibility.

Connect with students before, during, and after class

To help your students stay connected and prepared for class, send out session topics the week prior. Include information on how to log on to class sessions. Ensure students know where and how to get class materials like downloads and videos. Provide passwords to access materials if needed.

For live classes, remind students how to submit questions during the conference.  Take time to answer your students to help keep them engaged with your online class. During the class, have an assistant or student volunteer keep an eye on chat and Q&A windows if possible. That way, you can focus on delivering the lecture without missing any questions.

After class, follow up with an email asking for feedback on the session. Ask if everyone was able to connect to the video conference and follow along. Since students can’t see you in person, hold virtual office hours too. Try a tool like Calendly to allow students to make their own appointments during available time slots.

We hope your teachers find these distance learning best practices useful in delivering quality online education. Also, if you need to build or upgrade your online learning technology, your organization may qualify to shop for solutions using our national procurement contacts. Watch the video for more info.

AVI-SPL is here to help

If you have questions, we’re here to help. For assistance with upgrading up your distance learning technology, contact us now or call your local AVI-SPL office.

Microsoft Teams and Surface Hub 2S: Collaboration Tools for Today and Tomorrow

Today, nearly five million people in the U.S. are working remotely. Well before the coronavirus disrupted work as we know it, we were being told that remote work was an essential part of doing our jobs and that remote workers would dominate the workforce. The proliferation of remote work articles popping up in the wake of COVID-19 have made this an even more salient feature of our work lives. Millions of people around the world have had to adjust to a new way of working — a way that requires them to be at home but perform as if they were in the office. 

One of the tools getting high-profile coverage is Microsoft Teams. Whether I’m in the office or working from home, I use Teams many times a day. It’s how colleagues chat me up with ideas and suggestions. It’s how I share editable documents that a specific work group can view and edit. It’s where I can scroll through a conversation to refresh my memory about where we left off a certain project or deliverable. And it’s where I attend video meetings with colleagues to brainstorm, share ideas, and get work done in real time. Let’s look in greater detail at how Microsoft Teams helps me — and can help you — work from home and anywhere else.

How to Work Remotely With Microsoft Teams

For the past couple of weeks, Microsoft Teams has taken on more prominence and importance as my colleagues and I work outside the office. Working remotely doesn’t have much meaning or benefit unless we’re being productive. And Microsoft Teams is supporting that productivity. Since so much of the work we produce is the result of collaboration, it’s easy to see why Microsoft calls Teams its “hub for teamwork.” You could click a link and see the kind of features and capabilities it offers. But for me — I hope for you as well — the best way to share what Microsoft Teams can do is to speak from experience.

Like you, I work on a lot of projects that involve collaboration with a wide range of colleagues. Within Microsoft Teams, I can create (or be added to) a group that is named for a particular project. For example, we formed one project to gather content for our forthcoming podcast. Within these dedicated virtual spaces, we can add files that anyone can edit and download. We also added a section for conversation topics. To those topics we can attach our names and notes so that we know who has responsibility for recruiting guests and scheduling their appearances. It’s a great way for me to remind myself what I’ve done, still have to do, and my deadline. 

Another great reminder is the Posts tab, which includes the typed chats we’ve had about a topic. I frequently reference these conversations if I need to refresh my memory about what was discussed so that I know to work on a task or follow up with someone about theirs. This persistent chat is visual proof of our brainstorming, questions we’ve asked and answered, and announcements we’ve made to each other.

And speaking of visuals: It’s easy to jump into a video call with anyone in my contact list, which includes everyone in the company and anyone that I add. Once in a call, I’m two clicks away from recording the session, an essential tool when I’m interviewing a partner for one of AVI-SPL’s white papers. For most of these meetings, at least one attendee needs to share their content in the Teams window for all to see and understand. Another great feature: how easy it is schedule a Teams meeting from Outlook. I can schedule meetings from within the Microsoft Teams window, but I’m a creature of habit and I’m used to using the Outlook calendar. Whichever way you prefer, know that Teams accommodates your work style.

It’s worth noting that I’ve used only a fraction of Microsoft Teams’ capabilities. There’s plenty of apps that you may find helpful to support your work style or needs, including Stream, Wiki, OneNote, and a host of other built-in Office 365 applications.

I know I’ve given only a taste of what Microsoft Teams can do. Talk to one of AVI-SPL’s experts and you can ask about a host of other features like third-party solutions, the ability to integrate workflows, and the Teams developer platform that works with your business apps. If you choose, we can also take a deep dive with you into important benefits like security, manageability, and compliance, along with the room devices from our manufacturer partners that bring Microsoft Teams into the meeting space. With all I’ve shared, I’d be remiss to not include this overview of its key features:

  • Works across desktop, mobile, browser and a wide range of devices
  • A digital whiteboard (which I’ve never used til I started writing this post. It was a breeze to start.)
  • AI capabilities
  • Interoperability with other video systems
  • The features that ensure a quality audio and video experience
  • Actionable IT analytics

There’s much more to cover, but here’s the takeaway that I hope resonates with you: whatever industry you’re in, Microsoft Teams can improve your operations and processes when it comes to work and collaboration.

How to Be Productive in the Office With Surface Hub 2S

As we get back into the flow of on-site meetings and collaboration sessions, we’ll want to be in the same conference rooms and huddle spaces to connect with people who are in those areas or working from other locations. I don’t have the personal experience with Surface Hub 2S that I have with Microsoft Teams, but I’ve seen the demos — enough to know that it’s the kind of tool that you want in your office when it’s time for groups in and out of the workplace to get together on a shared, high-resolution canvas. And it’s not just any digital canvas, but one that has all the power of the Windows 10 operating system and has the great Microsoft Teams software built in. Going back to what I said earlier about the value of familiarity and comfort in the way we work: This is another way that Microsoft is delivering that kind of experience.

Surface Hub 2S is an interactive device that acts as a meeting platform, digital whiteboard, and so much more. Bring it into a conference room, huddle room or open area and you’ve created a space for teamwork. That includes the ability to use Microsoft Teams to collaborate with remote workers, replicating the great experience you’re used to from your PC. It also includes video conferencing so you can see your teammates while working on shared content in real time. Here are just a handful of the features that make the Surface Hub 2S so valuable:Surface Hub 2S image

  • 4K camera and 4K screen
  • Wireless content sharing
  • Microsoft Whiteboard
  • Window 10 OS
  • 50-inch display size
  • Cart or wall-mount installation

The Surface Hub 2S is the tool you’ll want to have to bring your remote teams together, work from anywhere in the office, and have an easy, fluid collaboration experience among the talent that drives your company’s success.

Talk to AVI-SPL’s Advocates About Microsoft Teams and Surface Hub 2S

If you’re new to Microsoft Teams or Surface Hub 2S, or you’re new to remote collaboration, there are experts at AVI-SPL who are ready to answer your questions and give you guidance. Whatever questions you have, ask them, as our representatives can discuss:

  • Product demos
  • How to migrate from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams
  • Planning and designing an enterprise-wide Teams launch (including network assessment, device strategy and migration planning)
  • Microsoft Teams meeting-room configuration with certified devices (Crestron, Poly, Yealink, Logitech, and others)
  • Training and adoption services
  • Room system and device management
  • How Microsoft Teams can help your specific industry
  • Integrating the Surface Hub 2S into areas across your enterprise

It can seem like a lot to take in, but keep in mind that all of these features and benefits are meant to serve your clear goals: better team collaboration and a better way of organizing you and your teams’ work. I would venture that a lot of us are looking forward to the day we can get back into the office and have that in-person experience. But for those of us who are set up to collaborate from home, we know how easy it is to be just as productive and contribute just as much from wherever we choose to set up our personal devices. Our current circumstances will pass; what will remain is the freedom, flexibility, and support that tools like Microsoft Teams and Surface Hub 2S bring to our work lives.

How to Create a Workplace Wellness Plan

Daniel Rogers, vice president, global channels for AVI-SPL, explores how to create a balanced workplace wellness program that includes reducing stress in his latest employee wellness article. Read about how light, color, and noise affect the employee experience in the office.

Rogers then makes the connection between flexibility and the digital workplace. Ideas include:

  • Providing activity-based work spaces
  • Desktop video meeting tools
  • Working remotely via video conferencing

Common video meeting roadblocks

The article also reviews common video conferencing adoption challenges and discusses solutions such as:

  • Understanding User Preferences
  • Following ADA Guidelines
  • Providing User Feedback Channels

Create a plan to boost video meeting adoption

When you want to offer flexibility through video meetings, you’ll want to ensure staff is using new collaboration tools. Rogers shares steps to encourage adoption and track meeting room and desktop platform utilization.

Measure digital workplace ROI

When you invest in an employee wellness plan that includes digital workplace flexibility tools, you’ll want to track usage and measure your ROI. Rogers discusses stats you’ll need to track to help measure your digital workplace ROI.

Adding digital workplace transformation to your workplace wellness program allows on-site and remote team members to collaborate easily. You’ll also provide flexibility to work in different office spaces and work remotely.

Read the article to learn more about how video meeting tools can increase team productivity and creativity.

Download the “Why Flexibility is Key to Your Workplace Wellness Plan — and Ways to Measure Success” article now.

As AVI-SPL and Whitlock Merge, the Customer Remains the Focus

In recent weeks, the offices of AVI-SPL have been buzzing with activity — much like the buzz that was generated when it was first announced that AVI-SPL and Whitlock would merge into one digital workplace services provider. The number one and number three companies on the SCN Top 50 of systems integrators were joining forces. And as you might expect, the news reports focused on the economics: the value and size of the new corporate giant

Much of the activity, particularly at AVI-SPL’s Tampa headquarters, has been focused on ways to bring the companies’ operations together while providing the same high levels of service that clients of AVI-SPL and Whitlock have come to expect. In a letter to customers, AVI-SPL’s EVP of Global Sales and Marketing Dale Bottcher did more than reassure them about the dedication and support they expect will be there. He let them know that the services and solutions they’ve come to rely on were going to get even better. He emphasized the need to pair collaboration spaces with the support services that lead to the best possible experience for end users and IT operations.

Actions are backing up his words. The constant flow of meetings and training sessions among AVI-SPL and Whitlock reveals the commitment to maintain and build upon the excellence that have made both companies so valuable to their clients around the world.

Bottcher’s letter expresses the practical value the merger will have not just for current customers, but those who are seeking a partner for their digital workplace transformation: the ability to quickly reach their collaboration and business goals. Research has shown that the number of video-enabled meeting spaces in the business world continues to grow — and for good reason.  Organizations that value video collaboration are able to optimize their investment in office space while offering the flexibility to work from anywhere and tap into the knowledge of teams working together. And because of these benefits, companies are positioned to attract and keep the talent that drives their growth.

If you’re seeking a partner for improving or building from scratch a workplace collaboration experience that benefits the entire company, I encourage you to let AVI-SPL know your challenges. I also encourage you to review AVI-SPL’s thought leadership on workplace collaboration. A great starting point is our 2019 Concept Catalog, which offers advice on how to build a digital workplace committee to ensure your workplace solutions align with business goals and the necessary user experience.

Suddenly Remote Due to Coronavirus: 6 Ways to Help Staff and Students Adjust

The rush to control the spread of the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, is on. Canceled events and self-quarantines are the norm. Companies and schools are acting too by sending workers and students home to meet remotely. It’s likely organizations like yours already utilize video meetings. However, if most of your teams and students are suddenly remote every day due to coronavirus, virtual meetings are playing their largest role ever in achieving your business goals.

Keep in mind some team members and students will be new to working or studying from home. Before you send your teams, students, and teachers into the virtual meeting world, and help fight the spread of COVID-19, follow these steps to help people stay engaged and productive during video meetings.

6 ways to help staff and students adjust to working remotely

1. Grant access

Make sure employees and students have remote access to all networks, software, and files they need to do their work or teach and attend classes. Since you’ll have a spike in video conferencing usage, contact your IT department to review your meeting software licenses and available bandwidth. You don’t want to send everyone home, then realize 1,000 people must share 200 software licenses.

Global companies should encourage staff to utilize cloud video connections vs. dial-in options to limit international calling charges. Even toll-free lines can have hidden call charges. It’s helpful to offer backup call-in options in case of slow home internet connections or local outages too. However, encourage staff to call in only when online connections are not available to control phone charges. Another tip is to encourage remote participants to turn off their camera feed to save bandwidth while benefiting from the online audio conferencing service. 

2. Offer online training

It’s likely your staff is already meeting online. If virtual meetings are not the norm, though, users may not be aware of all collaboration software features. Offer live and recorded video training to ensure everyone knows how to utilize the tools available to them. Show users how to schedule and start video meetings, record sessions, share files, chat, make online calls, and start impromptu meetings.

3. Have extra tech support available

Since tech support calls may increase with more people suddenly working online, get your tech support team involved early. Have your IT team review common tech challenges, so they are ready to help video conferencing attendees connect quickly. Consider creating a dedicated support team to help run your newly-minted virtual offices and classrooms.

Don’t forget to send tech support contact information to your virtual team members, so they know who to call for help. Also, since support staff will likely work remotely too, make sure they can still access employee laptops via remote control when needed.

4. Provide quality headsets for video meetings

It’s essential for meeting participants to see and hear everyone in the video conference and be seen and heard. Most laptops include cameras suitable for video calls. For audio, external devices often improve the remote meeting experience. Provide quality headsets with microphones to ensure all attendees can collaborate and share ideas during meetings.

Note that your staff and students may have to contend with noise and distractions. Children and pets may be at home, and traffic noise can seep through windows. Consider noise-canceling headphones to help tune out background noises and ensure everyone stays focused on the meeting.

5. Share Video Conferencing Best Practices

Share video meeting best practices with inexperienced users. It won’t hurt to give veteran remote workers a refresher too.  Top ideas to share include:

  • Choose a dedicated, quiet well-lit area with as little noise and distractions as possible
    • Avoid sitting in front of a window with bright light behind you
  • Dress like you would on a typical workday
  • Join the call a few minutes early and greet your coworkers, say goodbye when leaving the meeting too
  • Mute your microphone when you’re not speaking during meetings to limit noise
  • Turn your camera on for face-to-face communication
  • Check your surroundings that the camera will display
    • Clear the breakfast dishes from the table and remove anything hanging on chairs, etc., move any personal photos or other items you don’t want to be seen during the meeting
  • Share any documents you’re discussing via screen sharing
  • Stay focused and avoid multi-tasking during the meeting
  • Record the session and share the recording with meeting attendees
  • Make sure family and friends know you’re “at work” to prevent interruptions
  • Manage unexpected distractions as quickly as possible

6. Check in regularly

Encourage supervisors and teachers to ramp up online communications and feedback via chat and one-on-one video meetings. They should check in often to see how teachers, staff, and students are doing in the virtual world.

Reactions to work from home schedules can vary. Some people may love to skip the commute; others may feel lonely compared to coming into the office every day. Regular communication can help remote workers, and students feel connected to the rest of the group.

In addition to addressing current health concerns, work from home options provide flexibility, and can reduce stress. You may find the students and staff are more efficient and engaged while working away from the office. When your organization returns to normal working conditions once the spread of COVID-19 is under control, track your virtual meeting results. If you see happier employees and students, along with increased productivity, consider offering permanent options to work and study remotely a few days a week.

Get expert video conferencing help

Our teams at AVI-SPL are here to help. While the coronavirus outbreak has created a sudden exponential reliance on video meetings, helping teams connect online through video conferencing has been our core mission for years. If you need assistance launching or upgrading your digital workplace collaboration tools, contact us now or find your local AVI-SPL office.