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Is teleconferencing the key to accessible education?

Generally, phones and education aren’t too closely paired in our minds. In fact, there are even debates raging about whether mobiles should be altogether banned from schools, as some teachers feel they introduce too much distraction and even potential conflict into the classroom.

But phones actually hold a huge amount of educative potential. When used wisely, they can facilitate learning in countless ways. You only need to have a brief scroll through the Education section of wherever you get mobile apps or podcasts, and it’s pretty evident that we spend most of our days holding amazing educational tools.

Beyond replacing teachers, though, phones also have the ability to connect experts with people with a desire to learn. That’s a really powerful thing, especially for people living in areas with weaker education systems. It can also create the opportunity for people to learn who might otherwise be unable to attend school, be it because of cultural stigma, a need to work to earn money, geographic obstacles, physical disabilities or any other factor which might make it difficult to reach a good school.

We’ve previously thought about how greatly a conference call can expand the reach of an educational institution’s open day, meaning that more potential students can learn about everything that the school or university has to offer. But these attendees will still eventually have to travel to classes, should they choose to apply. So what about the ones who won’t be able to?

Why and how are we extending education’s accessibility?

That’s where teleconferencing can come in to connect teachers, tutors and students, something which has been happening for many years now. The concept isn’t dissimilar to Dr. Tyler DeWitt’s educational YouTube channel – which itself helped to spark something of an educational revolution. There’s still the underlying and very noble aim of bringing educational materials to people who otherwise struggle to access them, and also create an opportunity for reinforcement of stuff people have been able to learn, but from the comfort of their homes.

The ability to go over learning matter, be it new or revision, from anywhere providing internet access is a really important facet in increasing the value of these kinds of innovations. While we’ve discussed the fact that a lot of people can’t attend school, there are also plenty of kinds who can and do go to school every day, but still stand to gain a lot from being able to access learning remotely. A lot of children struggle to focus in a group setting, whether because they get distracted larking around with friends, or because they’re too nervous to properly engage.

There’s also the question of pride, which can stop students from wanting to admit that they don’t understand something in front of all their peers. By letting them continue their learning outside of school, we can help make sure that everyone is able to understand and consolidate the full curriculum and anything else that might interest them!

Why conference calls?

So what differentiates teleconferencing from all the educational materials already existing? When you compare a conference call to something like listening to a podcast, subscribing to a YouTube channel or even playing an educational game, the key difference that jumps out is that the option of a virtual meeting allows much greater, deeper and more immediate interactivity.

The difference might be quite simple, but it is far from academic (excuse the pun). It means that students can ask questions in real-time, and get further explanations and information as they go, rather than falling behind in a cloud of confusion which becomes harder and harder to dispel.

Looking at the features offered by conference call bridges like Call.Group, it can really seem like these services were custom-built for educational purposes; they’re that well-suited to aiding learning. Below, we outline some of the great applications of Call.Group offerings for teachers, tutors and instructors.

Calendar integration – anyone who has worked with youngsters, particularly those notoriously stressed-out teens famous for burning the candle at both ends, knows that organisation and memory are not always their strong points. While a lot of the time, pleading innocence and forgetfulness might not be quite the whole story when it comes to that missing homework, it’s true that adolescents seem to have a hard time to struggle to remember where they have to be and when. Maybe it’s getting too used to having every minute of the school day meticulously organised for them, but that’s no problem because it’s something which calendar integration can replicate for them. With this tool, they can make sure they get a handy little reminder from their calendar app on their smartphone, so that they never miss a virtual class – no excuses! And of course, it’s really helpful to super-busy teachers with a hundred and one tasks to remember and piles of marking which can eat away hours  before you realise.

File sharing and document presentation – these are absolutely paramount for virtual learning. You’ll be able to upload worksheets for your students to fill in as you go, or as homework to complete individually. You can also share any kind of documents that will help explain the material, whether it be graphs and diagrams, 18th century paintings, extracts of contemporary Japanese poetry or just a corrected version of the homework for them to compare their own workings. And the ability to present each document, going through it page by page means that you can keep every student fully engaged, with nobody lagging behind or skipping ahead, and explain each detail as you go.

Moderator controls and controlled muting – any teacher who has worked for more than five minutes knows the importance of maintaining control of the classroom. While a lot of the challenges are reduced in a virtual environment (it’s definitely much harder for kids to get up to mischief when they aren’t physically crammed in together), it’s still important to keep the conversation clear and structured. With these controls, you’ll be able to keep people quiet when things need to be explained in-depth, and increase their ability to input when it comes to collaborating or clarifying. Features like Q&A mode are perfectly suited to nailing the nitty-gritties and really tackling any areas that your students are struggling with. Similarly, Live Chat means that attendees can post comments and questions as you go, without interrupting your flow by having to vocalise their contribution. That means you can still address issues before proceeding, but prevents all of your students from interrupting every time uncertainty arises.

Audio and video recording – an absolutely invaluable tool for studying. Imagine being able to listen and even watch back to whole lessons when it comes to revising or writing an essay! It means that people who can’t write at super-speed, who might get a little distracted, or who are unable to attend the virtual class are not penalised. Instead, they can go over all of the material (including your uploaded documents) to their hearts’ content. Crucially, that also means that students can actually sit and listen and participate during the lesson, rather than having to ferociously copy down every word you say.

Audio transcription and smart search – again, the usefulness of these tools when it comes to private study cannot be overstated. With them, you’ll be able to provide your students with a written version of every word that was spoken during the class, so that they can read through it at their own speed whenever they need it. Even better, if someone is writing an essay specifically on the financial factors leading to a revolution, or got really stuck on a particular type of chemical reaction, they can search specifically for the times when these areas were mentioned and only read these parts, or download the relevant recording/transcript. That’s a massive time-saver and can really help them piece together information to understand the fuller picture.

Gabi JamesIs teleconferencing the key to accessible education?
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