One of the pitfalls of teaching in a virtual setting is not seeing your students every day. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, and I constantly tell my coworkers that this is the best teaching experience I’ve ever had. However, I’m one of those people that want to be everywhere and do everything at the same time, especially when it comes to teaching. So what do you do when you can’t physically be in the same building with your students every day? You make it work.
Over the past two years, VAR staff and I have used every possible resource we could find (that was free) to help us communicate with our kids and each other. When it comes down to a phone call, a text, or daily emails we are on point. It gets a little trickier when we need to talk directly with students. That’s where screen sharing comes in.
The Rochester City School District serves almost 30,000 students each year and approximately 11,500 of those students are in high school. When you consider that in combination with the technology our students have access to (i.e. PCs with or without webcams, Chromebooks) some things work for some schools and some don’t.
My biggest struggle this year has been getting to my students on a weekly basis. In my department, I pull double-duty as an English and Spanish teacher (and did I mention I am the only Spanish teacher?) and am virtually scheduled at every building we provide credit recovery to. It keeps me busy, but I do feel bad that students don’t see me as often as they want. The solution to this was Zoom.us. It was free and was supposed to bypass the red tape from Google Hangouts, which students cannot access with their RCSD121.org accounts. When communicating with co-workers or vendors, it’s worked great. But we still found red tape, lots of red tape.
Not every computer lab had computer monitors with webcams, which meant we needed webcams to be ordered; we also needed headphones with mics. Through trial and error, we determined that students could save an application like Zoom.us to their desktop and use it, but students on chromebooks had to get access from the IT Department at Central Office (essentially unblocking the app or extension).
This wasn’t as big of a problem for our English courses because most of our staff were already familiar with the content and how to navigate them. This year, students recovering a Spanish I credit had a course from a different vendor and the navigation was completely different. While we recorded videos and made handouts to help students learn how to navigate this it would have been so much easier to show them either in person or through screen sharing.
I was hopeful that I would find a solution and explored ScreenLeap and join.me. ScreenLeap worked on a student account with a chromebook, which was a huge success. It took just a few moments to set up and was easy to use. However, the lack of audio conferencing really negated the ease of use and at $15 a month for premium features, it’s not a great deal. When we tried join.me, we came up against the same system blocks, which was unfortunate because it was easy to use and I loved the chat feature. I also used the application on my iPhone and loved that I could take over with a mouse on my screen or type. The only negative was the price point.
Screen sharing is one of the things I plan to tackle this summer so that students have an effective, cost-efficient way of communicating with their meaningful contact teachers. It would benefit the entire department to be able to chat with students from a remote location and show them our screens so that they can visually see, rather than just getting directions by email or phone.