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Keep Students Engaged in Online Learning and Manage Technical Glitches

AVI-SPL wants to help your teams stay connected and productive during this difficult time as most of us are working, teaching, and learning from home. Our Together We Can online learning series offers helpful ideas and resources. Below is this week’s edition. Read all Together We Can posts.

Whether your staff taught the occasional virtual class or had no experience, everyone just got a crash course in delivering a full-time online learning schedule thanks to COVID-19. Keeping college students engaged in online learning is an essential part of delivering quality education.

Below I’ve outlined ways to keep students engaged during online classes. Pass on these ideas to your educators to encourage their students to fully participate in virtual sessions. I also included tips on how to overcome some technical difficulties during live online sessions.

Outline your virtual class in short sections

Break up your online class into different sections or chapters. Presenting the class in short “chunks” can help you deliver an energetic class and retain students’ attention. Create a virtual class outline that can be turned into a short agenda to share with your students.

In your outline, include problem-based learning tasks. Communicate to your students that the solution to the problem lies in the course material that you will present online. This can motivate students to give their full attention throughout the online class to learn the solution.

Use different media formats

Mix different media formats in your virtual class to change the pace and keep students engaged. Share a video of you talking and add a recorded video. In between, share slides or other documents on the screen. Follow the tips in our Online Learning Best Practices for Educators blog when recording or sharing live video.

Design your online class for audio-only and mobile experiences

In a perfect world, your digital class will be delivered perfectly. But glitches happen. Taking proactive steps can help you overcome technical difficulties. While video is more engaging than audio alone, don’t rely on it. At times you may not be able to send video, or class participants may not see the video due to bandwidth or device issues. Note that having a student leave the virtual class and then log back on may correct audio or visual issues for them.

In case video is not available during your class, design your material so that students can absorb the information by hearing the audio portion only. Keep talking when visuals are on the screen. If all is well with sending the video, be sure to record it so students who had any issues can watch a replay later.

Also, consider that students may be using a mobile phone or tablet to attend class. Small screens can make information hard to read. Use large type and break up information on a few slides, instead of cramming everything on to one slide or page. View your materials on a mobile phone before adding them to your virtual class presentation. You’ll avoid a situation where students cannot easily see your video content.

Record a back-up session before live classes

Hopefully, you won’t experience your classroom technology going down completely. If you do, be prepared with a recorded session of your class. That way, you can have students watch the recorded session and keep the class schedule you designed. You can use Google Drive or Microsoft Stream to share links to recorded classes if needed.

Keep Online Learning Accessible

Don’t forget to keep accessibility for visual and hearing impaired students in mind when preparing course documents and tools. Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft PowerPoint include tools to verify accessibility. Add captions to your videos if possible. YouTube and many LMSs include an auto-caption feature. Double-check that your captions are correct before sharing a video.

Ensure students know how to use the system

Once you prepare your online class, ensure participants know how to log on to the Learning Management System (LMS) or video conferencing platform you will use. Send an instructional email a few days before class. Most systems will include a link to help participants test their devices before the session. This will allow time for students to address any technical issues.  

To further encourage your students’ success, share our online learning best learning for students with your class. You can also share a beginner tutorial video like this one from Zoom:

Share a clear virtual class agenda

Once you have an outline, start the class by briefly reviewing your agenda. You can share a PowerPoint slide or Word document and talk through it.

Sending the agenda and supporting class materials prior to the online session will help overcome any technical issues with video too. Students can refer to their materials if they can’t see the video during class. Also, include in your email how students can contact you with comments and questions during live and recorded online learning sessions.

Check in regularly during live digital classes

For small classes, pause occasionally and ask if anyone has questions. When presenting to large classes, turning on everyone’s mics may not be feasible. Ask students to utilize the chat or Q&A features in the LMS or video meeting platform. It’s helpful to have an assistant or student volunteer moderate this for you.

Maintain engagement between virtual classes

Since you can’t connect with students in person, include ways to keep them engaged between the virtual classes in your lesson plan. Consider these steps to keep students connected with you and each other during the online course.

Hold regularly- scheduled virtual office hours

Allow students to drop-in to your virtual office during designated hours. Send out a recurring meeting link for the times when you’re available to chat with students. For large classes, have students ask for appointments by email, or use a tool like Calendly.

Use social media to build a student community

Social distancing prohibits students from meeting in person. To help your class participants connect with each other and boost engagement, create a private Facebook Group, or another discussion forum.  Classmates can interact with each other online after class at their convenience. Ask a teaching assistant to moderate the group and provide feedback to you about common questions or learning roadblocks.

Ideas to get students engaged in digital forums:

  • Ask specific questions on discussion boards to facilitate student responses
  • Post recorded videos with FAQs or follow-up info based on student questions
  • Present problems that can be solved by reading course materials, or students’ virtual class notes

Gamify your online class

Add a gaming element to your virtual class that can encourage ongoing student engagement. Consider a scavenger hunt based on pictures or answers to questions that you add to your video or slides for students to find. Have online class participants include answers in their assignments to earn points for extra credit. Delete points for missed or late assignments too.

For classes delivered through an LMS, check if the system can award badges as students complete each class or assignment. You can create some friendly competition to get the most badges in a certain period. Likewise, set up automated LMS email notifications when classes and assignments are not completed on time.

Post assignments that boost engagement after class

Consider how you can maintain engagement when creating virtual class assignments. Ideas to consider include:

  • Have students complete video or phone interviews with professionals or each other.
  • Share recorded “mini-class” audio or video files with assignment details. Assign groups and have students collaborate online and record their answers.
  • Ask students to search for video resources to share on the course topic from YouTube or other universities.

AVI-SPL is here to help

I hope your educators find these ideas to keep students engaged in online classes useful. Have other ideas to share? Post them in the comments. If you need assistance with your online learning platforms, contact us or call your local AVI-SPL office.

For more online learning information, check out AVI-SPL’s Together We Can online learning page for weekly updates.

3 Tips for New Remote Workers

For organizations of all types — schools, businesses, government agencies — and millions around the world, the COVID-19 outbreak has seriously disrupted the way we work. Even if your company or institution had already embraced video collaboration among team members, you may not have used it to the extent you have to now. 

AVI-SPL wants to help by giving you the guidance you need to stay connected with each other and be as productive as you can during this difficult time.

That’s why we’ve launched our Together We Can initiative, in which we share tips, advice, and resources for reinforcing our connections, building new communities, and maintaining business continuity. This blog is the hub for much of that content, and the most recent resources are at the top of this list:

I strongly encourage you to bookmark the Together We Can page so that you will always have the latest tools, tips, and outside-the-box ideas for keeping your teams engaged and productive.

3 Tips for Remote Workers

In this post, Laurie Berg, AVI-SPL director of services product management, shares her insight into ways you can make remote work a productive, successful experience.

Remote worker, home worker, teleworker — it doesn’t matter what you call it, you are not working from an office for an extended period of time. I’ve been a home worker for the last decade and worked in the collaboration technology industry for two decades. I can say with confidence I have seen it all. But what I have discovered is that working remotely is as much about my state of mind as it is about the technology I have access to. Technologies evolve and trends come and go, but how I deal with my environment is completely within my control. Therefore, I wanted to share my top three takeaways from what I’ve learned over the years and provide a little guidance to the trial-and-error everyone is going through.    

  1. Make your tools work for you. Instant messaging, audio conferencing, video conferencing, project and task management applications, digital notebooks, file sharing — there seems to be a tool for everything you can think of. However, having access to tools does not magically make you productive or efficient. Take the time to learn your tools and discover how they best benefit your world. Personally, I have access to so many applications it can be overwhelming at times. There is always something buzzing or dinging somewhere. But what I find the most useful are tools that combine instant messaging, audio, video, and document sharing. I can have multiple conversations at once with the instant messaging, some with individuals and some with groups of a shared topic. But sometimes those chats need to escalate to a larger conversation over audio and/or video. That is as easy as clicking a button within the chat window, and I can invite others just as easily. And when all is said and done, notes and documents can be shared with others into specific topic spaces to keep things organized. We all know multitasking exists, and instead of trying to train myself not to, I use a tool that helps me do it better.  
  1. Etiquette. Etiquette sounds like such an old-fashioned term, but meeting with people down the hall, in a local meeting space, is not the same as meeting with people remotely, and even less so when everyone is remote. Think about not only how you interact with your colleagues, but how others interact with you. Remember things like: 
    • Minimize distractions. Working from home can bring all sorts of distractions. My dog, for example, is on a different schedule than me, and he is not concerned if his barking interrupts. So as you go into meetings, take a moment to mute your microphone and close your door, if you have one. Any minimizing that can be done to disruptions is a plus.
    • Utilize application “presence.” Applications that merge instant messaging with other capabilities, such as Microsoft Teams or Cisco Webex Teams, have a presence engine. In essence, it enables you to set yourself to “available,” “away,” “busy,” “do-not-disturb,” etc. This is similar to walking down the hall and seeing that the person you need is behind a closed door, on the phone, or otherwise engaged; therefore, do not interrupt. Similarly, if you are not available because you are trying to get something done, set yourself to “busy.”
    • Turn off your video when needed. It can be very easy to forget you are in a “working environment” at home. With shelter-in-place directives, stay-at-home orders, etc., we are faced with a constant barrage of phones ringing, kids rummaging around in the kitchen, someone or something needing your attention and immediate gratification. We are also faced with network congestion we have never experienced before, causing poor video quality. So while I know we cannot get rid of those issues, as you cannot lock everyone else away or make people get off the public internet, please turn off your video when you do need to step away, move to another place or want to decrease the bandwidth you are using. And let other attendees know. People are very understanding but be respectful of others. Often when people turn off their video, others think they dropped from the call.

 And my number one piece of advice for all of the new remote workers:

  1. Go to your virtual office everyday. This may sound silly. Of course, you are working every day. You are dedicated employees doing your part for your organization’s continued advancements. However, as I mentioned up front, this is about your state of mind. Get up, have your cup of coffee, bowl of cereal (my preference is Wheat Chex), get your family ready. All of the things you would normally do, but then continue your daily routine. You get ready. We would all love to wear a pair of sweatpants, a T-shirt, and baseball hat, but go with business-casual or a “jeans Friday” mentality. Do your hair, makeup, shave, whatever your routine would be if you were going into the office — continue that routine as best you can. Separate out lounging at the house/family time from work. And then go to your new space. This could be an in-home office, kitchen table, living room. Wherever it is, make it your workspace.

We know home demands on all of us are different than ever before. And none of what I mentioned can be done 100% of the time to 100% productivity. But if you take the time to make slight adjustments and create a “new normal,” your mind will more settled, your family will be more settled, and your work will be more settled. 

Leverage Video Meetings to Lead Your Team Remotely Through Disruption

For organizations of all types — schools, businesses, government agencies — and millions around the world, the COVID-19 outbreak has seriously disrupted the way we work. Even if your company or institution had already embraced video collaboration among team members, you may not have used it to the extent you have to now. 

AVI-SPL wants to help by giving you the guidance you need to stay connected with each other and be as productive as you can during this difficult time.

That’s why we’ve launched our Together We Can initiative, in which we share tips, advice, and resources for reinforcing our connections, building new communities, and maintaining business continuity. This blog is the hub for much of that content, and the most recent resources are at the top of this list:

Bookmark the Together We Can page so that you will always have the latest tools, tips, and outside-the-box ideas for keeping your teams engaged and productive.

Leaders always juggle a myriad of responsibilities, priorities, and challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified these commitments almost beyond comprehension. Protecting the bottom line. Driving revenue. Security. Maintaining culture. The well-being and safety of employees. Transitioning overnight to remote work models. The list goes on. Thankfully, the modern workplace was ready to embrace full-time remote work.

Use video conferencing to manage disruption and maintain productivity

As the business climate changes on what seems to be a daily basis, leaders at every level face continuous decisions, each as critical as the next. The natural inclination for many is to retreat into the work itself. But this is the exact moment when employees need to see and hear from leaders. And this is the moment when leaders can show up, speak up, and help employees navigate this challenging time.

There is good news amidst all of these challenges. We have video conferencing. While the days of water-cooler chats, in-person town halls, the impromptu office drop-by, and casual lunch meetings are gone for the near future, virtual communication has never been easier, even for businesses that weren’t initially set up for remote work. Leaders can continue to have face time with their teams, whether in large virtual town hall scenarios, all-hands video meetings, or more personal one-to-one touchpoints over Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Webex, and other applications.

Communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more

The cadence and method of communicating and collaborating with employees are important. It needs to be more than a one-and-done task. Establish specific work-from-home routines and distribution platforms for executives. Set expectations for weekly communications from senior leaders and cascade daily communication responsibilities down through your organization and across cross-functional teams. It’s also important to carve out regular one-on-one virtual meeting time with your employees to check in and see how they are doing. Doing that from home has never been easier thanks to simple yet robust meeting and team collaboration tools.

Tailor your message for your remote workforce

Executives and senior leaders should share your organization’s strategy for navigating through these changes, as best you can. Emphasize priorities and how you’re going to meet those priorities. Be clear, confident, and realistic. And be real and transparent; employees need to feel like you have things under control.

By reaching out frequently and using video as a way to connect, your leadership and visibility can lead to a more engaged workforce who is better able to handle the new working conditions while also balancing the stressors of the “new norm.” Now is one of the most important leadership moments of your career.

Your team needs to see you. They need to see each other. Video conference calls, emails, and texts are great ways to communicate under normal circumstances. These formats can now supplement virtual communications to reinforce key messages during this time of crisis.

But the sense of togetherness and humanity is vital, and video conferencing with platforms like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Webex make this possible. It’s the closest thing we have to a sense of normalcy – a face-to-face way to collaborate, brainstorm, coordinate, give and receive feedback – and also to smile, laugh, and even commiserate and share frustration. We can get your team set up and running. This resource guide has a library of tips and an online shop of tools essential in the new work from home paradigm,

Lead by example

The more your employees see you adapting to the remote model and utilizing video platforms to meet, communicate, and get work done in different ways, the more likely they are to do the same. Even if you or some of your employees are still in the office, start adopting video technology as your primary meeting platform to increase confidence, usage, and experience. Be sure to use your laptop camera or webcam so your team can see and connect with you during virtual meetings.

How you show up matters – use the right online tools and devices

When everything seems like chaos around you, it’s easy to let appearances slip. But it’s still critical to portray a sense of professionalism and calm and position yourself to look your best. Your team needs to see that sense of normalcy from you. Are you set up to do this? Headsets, proper lighting, professional attire, and limited background noise all help keep video meetings productive.

Make sure your employees are set up for success too – do they have what they need to be effective and efficient from their home office with tools like desktop monitors, noise-canceling microphones, and speakers? This is not just an investment for now, these are all items that can be used when everyone is finally back in the office and able to travel again. We’ve set up this online shop with shortcuts to the best work from home tools.

Humanizing the virtual world

Of course, we’re all living and working under new circumstances, and it’s okay for employees to get a glimpse of your “life behind the curtain.” It makes you more human and relatable. So if the dog barks, there’s a burst of laughter from another room, or your video suddenly crashes, make light of it and move on. In fact, sharing work-from-home “bloopers” can become a great ice breaker when kicking off your meeting.

With visible leaders communicating face-to-face every step of the way, organizations can get through this time, and carry these best practices forward. Together we can. And together we will.  

 

How to Manage Your Remote Teams

For organizations of all types — schools, businesses, government agencies — and millions around the world, the COVID-19 outbreak has seriously disrupted the way we work. Even if your company or institution had already embraced video collaboration among team members, you may not have used it to the extent you have to now. 

AVI-SPL wants to help by giving you the guidance you need to stay connected with each other and be as productive as you can during this difficult time.

That’s why we’ve launched our Together We Can initiative, in which we share tips, advice, and resources for reinforcing our connections, building new communities, and maintaining business continuity. This blog is the hub for much of that content, and the most recent resources are at the top of this list:

I strongly encourage you to bookmark the Together We Can page so that you will always have the latest tools, tips, and outside-the-box ideas for keeping your teams engaged and productive.

How to Manage Remote Teams

With so many of us still working from home full time for at least the next few weeks, we talked to Daniel Rogers, AVI-SPL VP of global channels, for his advice on how he manages remote employees. Here’s what he has to offer to help with your challenges at this time:Daniel Rogers, VP of global channels, AVI-SPL

The ability to collaborate in real time when working remotely allows for a feeling of being connected with your coworkers, partners, and customers. This is vitally important. Remote workers need to feel connected to their company and their coworkers, and tools for instant messaging and video (e.g., Microsoft Teams) are key in helping achieve this.

I personally manage a global team based on three different continents, and the use of video and collaboration services makes me feel aligned and connected with all my team members, as well as with our customers and partners. The ability to share and present content in real time makes for valuable and more meaningful internal and external meetings.

In our team, we operate a mutual open-door policy, where the green light denotes you are available to answer a question or share a thought — as you would when you walk to someone’s desk to speak with them if you were working in the office. I also encourage everyone on the team, no matter their geographic location, to connect with each other as well as myself in order for them to feel that connection and still have those virtual water-cooler conversations.

In some cases I could speak to a member of the team every day if the situation or opportunity needs that level of focus: e.g. when working on a major project or RFP. This is not a micro-management process; it is simply utilization of the tools to collaborate and work in real time as you would if you were in a physical office environment.

We have a scheduled weekly team call on video, where all members from around the world join and share their weekly updates on projects, opportunities, etc. It’s also where I share an update from the company/management level. I am confident the team gets a great deal out of these sessions as this is an opportunity to share updates that are relevant to all members.

We also have monthly 1:1 sessions and quarterly business review sessions, all of which are scheduled and planned for the full year ahead.

It is different managing people who work remotely as it takes a certain discipline to work away from an office environment. Everyone must treat it with the same level of discipline and professionalism you would exhibit if you were in the office, where you practice good time management and present a professional appearance and working environment. Maintain the same levels of professional conduct as you would in any meeting. Once you have established routines, standards, and trust, then managing people becomes straightforward. Great productivity and results can be achieved.

Get expert advice on managing your remote teams

AVI-SPL is here to help you find the collaboration tools that will keep your team connected and productive. These efforts are paramount during the coronavirus, but they will be just as important as we get back to our workplaces and incorporate a liberating way of working into our daily routines. As businesses, schools, and government agencies get back into the swing of running at full capacity, you want your organization to have the resources that make that process as efficient and effective as possible.

Our mission is to provide the tools, experience, and support you need to connect teams between the offices and remote locations. Because when your talented individuals work together, you can reach your business outcomes. If you need assistance launching or upgrading your digital workplace collaboration tools, contact us now or find your local AVI-SPL office.

Online Learning Best Practices for Students

AVI-SPL wants to help your teams stay connected and productive during this difficult time as most of us are working, teaching, and learning from home. Our Together We Can online learning series offers helpful ideas and resources. Below is this week’s edition. Read all Together We Can posts.

While teachers are scrambling to get remote classes up and running in the wake of coronavirus, your students are facing work-at-home challenges too. Once your staff is prepared to teach classes online, you can help your students be ready for online learning as well.

Pass on these best practices to teachers to share with their students. Use our social buttons at the end of the article to easily share these distance learning best practices for students via social or email.

Find a quiet place for online classes

Try to find a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted. Ensure you have good lighting and wear headphones to help you focus on the online session.

Share your virtual class schedule

Speaking of quiet areas, work out a schedule with your family or roommates for class time. Young children may be home from school, and many parents are working remotely from the house too. Limit distractions as much as possible by planning your class time with everyone at home.

You may be sharing internet bandwidth as well. Let your housemates know when you need to attend class online. Ask others to limit streaming apps and large downloads while you’re attending class. It’s a tough ask while we’re all working and studying from home — we know!

Test your system

When you’re invited to an online session, the email usually includes a link to test your computer, tablet, or phone to ensure the video conferencing solution will work. Don’t forget to check your device the day before class, so you’ll have time to address any technical issues. It’s helpful to ensure you can log on to sessions using a mobile data connection, in case your Internet service is slow or interrupted.

Also, most video conferencing systems have chat and Q&A options. Ask your class leader ahead of time which option to use to submit questions and comments. Look for more information from your school or watch instructional videos like this one from Zoom.

Also, if you use any online accessibility tools for visual or hearing impairments, test that those work with your online class platform too. Ask your teacher to set up a test session if needed.

Complete assignments and download materials before class

Get familiar with the material and complete any assigned reading so you can follow along during the lesson and ask questions. Let your teacher know if you had any issues accessing materials.

Mute your cell phone during class

Turn off your ringer and vibrate function to avoid the temptation to pick up your mobile phone. Remember to pause all text and app notifications to limit distractions. Better yet, turn your phone off unless you’re using it to attend class.

Mute the mic on your device

Mute your device microphone when not speaking during a video conferencing class. Muting the mic will limit the noise others will hear. Make sure you know how to mute your microphone before class begins.

Remember it’s a real class

Keep in mind this is a real class, and you will be graded. Pay attention to the lectures, and do your assignments. Finally, deadlines are still deadlines. Complete your work on time and respect your fellow students’ and educators’ time during online classes.

Check out these additional Top Tips For Student Success in Online Courses shared by Nova Southeastern University.

The AVI-SPL team is ready to help you

We hope your students put these online learning best practices to effective use. The AVI-SPL team is here to help if you need assistance setting up your distance learning technology. Contact us now or call your local AVI-SPL office.