Once you’ve shifted to a remote classroom, gotten your communication protocols established, and made sure everyone is safe and somewhat settled, there are a couple of items that still need your attention. The first is student privacy and Internet safety. It can be exciting to host your first successful web conference, or to set up a classroom website for sharing and displaying student work. In that excitement though, don’t forget that FERPA laws still apply and they apply in online settings in ways that can be quite different than in face-to-face classrooms. For one, you no longer have the physical school surrounding you and your students. This refers both to the building, separating your students from public and peering eyes, but also the software and hardware services that protect anything bad coming into the classroom portal. Rather than being fearful of the unknown, take some time to educate yourself about the most common privacy and safety issues you and your students might face. Here are just a few tips to get you started:
- Try to only use your school LMS for sharing information. Do not post links to meetings or other events/activities in a public forum (such as twitter or facebook).
- Never post images of students in public. Even if their names are removed.
- If students are going to be posting on social media or blogging sites, make sure you get parental permission if they want to use their name or image. Otherwise, use invented names or monikers – and absolutely no images. Watch out for, and remove other identifying information such as school name, address and photos.
- Host all class discussions in your LMS. You can easily host video discussions using tools such as Flipgrid or Voicethread. Check with your LMS provider to find out which audio/video tools integrate with their platform.
- Do not post web conference meeting links in public. This is a privacy issue but it is also a scamming issue. Check out this Edsurge article on Zoombombing for more. This doesn’t mean that you should be afraid to host live meetings, just that you need to use common sense when setting up your meeting space.
- Never share grades in public or in open discussion forums within your LMS.
- Thoroughly vet any and all web-based resources used in your class. Do not assume because it sounds like an educational site that it is safe for young children. Don’t just look at content, pay attention to the types of ads that are on the site, read reviews if available, look for signs of credibility. It’s best in the beginning to try to stick with one or two good educational resources such as PBS, Khan Academy, and Discovery Education. Educate your students about this as well. Commonsense Education is a one-stop shop devoted to digital literacy.
- Use education-based tools for sharing on the Internet. Edublog, by WordPress, is one example of a blogging platform created just for educational uses.
The second is accessibility. This is a big one and it can be overwhelming to think about while in crisis mode. But it has to be at the top of the list so that we make sure we are reaching all of our students to the best of our ability. Obviously, it is not possible for you to begin designing a web-based, fully accessible curriculum – we have been challenged to do that even before the crisis. However, there are a few easy things that you can do to get started.
- Play around with the accessibility tools on your own computer so that you are knowledgeable about what is available already. Even if students use a different computer system than you do, the accessibility features on most computers are very similar.
- Always prepare text-based documents in a program that allows for text-to-speech access. This means no .pdf files unless you use the “make accessible” option available in Acrobat Pro.
- Use captions on video content.
- Try to create multiple representations of content whenever possible. CAST is a good resource for principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL).
- WebAIM is a good resource for accessibility in general. It can be overwhelming so find one or two things that you can do right now. You might focus in on vision and hearing supports to start.
- Communicate often with parents.
- If all else fails, go back to basics. Use the phone if necessary.
- Check out How to Serve Students with Special Needs from Afar from EdSurge for some great tips.
It can seem overwhelming when life as you know it has moved to a space that is unfamiliar. The best defense is not fear, but knowledge. Educate yourself so that you will be better prepared to support your students. They are counting on you!