HomeNewsFaculty note variation in effectiveness of online conference calls

Faculty note variation in effectiveness of online conference calls

By KYLIE YEATMAN

The transition to online classes has proven to be a difficult task for faculty at CHS, who have struggled to transfer various aspects of their typical classroom dynamics into a digital space, but this has not been their only challenge: Finding a reliable video conferencing software has likewise proven to be a point of difficulty. 

This issue has been exacerbated by the recent “Zoombombing” incident at CHS, which prompted administration to tighten security measures for digital classrooms. “Zoombombing” is defined as a malicious attack on a digital classroom held on the web client Zoom, and in this particular instance involved a student gaining entry to the video classroom and displaying inappropriate images on the screen for all viewers. 

“We have moved to a more secure version of Zoom for those teachers using that platform,” explains CHS principal Jonathon Lyons, adding that increased security measures include a password requirement for classrooms and students to use their school-administered emails when joining classes.

Google Hangouts and Zoom have proven to be the most popular of the digital conference clients, though each is not without their respective drawbacks.

Some faculty members say that the early transition toward digital learning was rushed by necessity, and thus incidents like this are pivotal in the improvement of the digital classroom.

“I think the ‘Zoombombing’ incident was unfortunate, but entirely foreseeable,” social studies teacher Bill Schrier says. “The rush to get CUSD into remote learning without adequate training of the teachers made what happened likely, so the response from administration was appropriate.” 

Digital conference clients like Zoom and Google Hangouts have become a necessity in a COVID-19 world, and vulnerabilities including data privacy concerns and security issues on these apps have been brought to the forefront. 

In spite of security concerns, digital conferences have proven an effective method for numerous teachers when it comes to recreating their classroom environments and engaging with students. While some teachers have found it easy to transfer their classrooms to a digital space, others have struggled with recreating fundamental aspects of their classes virtually. 

Drama teacher Gracie Poletti is one such example, explaining that though some elements of her class have been easy to recreate, there have also been numerous setbacks. 

“Everything that involves research and self-discovery transfers well to the digital space,” Poletti says. “But so much of drama is face to face and sharing emotions, and some of that gets lost in translation.”

Physics teacher Don Freitas notes similar difficulties in terms of providing demonstrations of core concepts.

“With science I try to provide a lot of hands-on activities, labs and live demonstrations in order to increase engagement, which I am incapable of doing with distance learning,” Freitas explains. “Still, using Zoom allows students to watch me solve calculation problems in real time and ask questions which are beneficial. “ 

Teachers also say that holding students accountable for showing up to classes and completing assignments is easier with digital conferencing, though few teachers have made their online meetings mandatory. 

“I think students either have to be held accountable for attending or have the self-motivated desire to attend,” says science teacher Jason Maas-Baldwin who adds that of his 165 students, the vast majority tend to engage with the material actively. “That engagement can come from interest in the subject, relationship with the teacher, desire to learn for the sake of learning or preparing for the AP test.” 

Schrier, who holds optional seminars twice a week, notes that attendance in his conferences has likewise been high, albeit lower among seniors than freshmen. 

“I have made clear that live attendance is optional because I know that other teachers are also competing for time, and I want to give my students flexibility,” Schrier says. 

Still, faculty members generally agree that they feel optimistic about the advantages of digital conference calls, and as the school year comes to a close, they remain a staple of distance learning.

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