Is Education Failing in its Use of Video Conferencing?

Recent events have affected the use of video conferencing in the education sector. Vonage sheds light on the future of remote learning.

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Video Conferencing in Education: The Future of Virtual Classrooms

When every school and university closed its physical doors due to COVID-19, the education sector  reacted quickly by pulling in off-the-shelf general video conferencing tools like Zoom, Google Meet, and others. This allowed schools and teachers to continue teaching on a moment’s notice. But these tools are not actually designed for educational use—and the many issues we have seen around security, Zoomraids, disrupted classrooms, students muting teachers, etc. are a reflection of this. These apps served as an emergency response, but they won’t work in the long-term.

In other security-conscious sectors, like Telehealth and Financial Services, there are very solid, designed-for-purpose, highly secure applications that were well established in these markets and were able to rapidly expand to meet the need while maintaining security and ease of use. They did this by embedding video conferencing directly into their existing applications using APIs.

Education has lagged behind in many aspects of video conferencing technology, and communications/remote learning is one of the biggest pain points educators face today. But there’s no more time to waste. As students plan to return to a very different school year this fall, educators need to rise to the challenge over the summer in preparation for whatever combination of in-person and remote learning will need to happen.

Even at the height of the COVID-19 quarantine school year, we saw far less increased usage of video in education than in other sectors. In our Video Trends study we saw a 92 percent increase in video usage among education organizations in April over February. Among healthcare users, we saw a 2,306 percent increase. This doesn’t mean, though, that educators are not using video at all; rather, it likely means they’re using all-purpose video conferencing solutions rather than dedicated virtual classroom environments  with embedded video.

 

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Such purpose-built applications are much more common in industries like healthcare and finance than in education. Those that do exist tend to be more focused on classroom and homework management or instructional materials, a complement to brick-and-mortar schools rather than the full remote learning replacement COVID-19 demanded. In the longer term, we would hope and expect to see the EdTech application community introduce more broadly and globally available true built-for-purpose education platforms, using APIs to ensure security, reliability, and the safety of students no matter how or where they learn.

EdTech and ELearning Platforms

While education has a gap to fill in order to serve as a classroom replacement, the need for education-focused technology has ballooned over the past several months. Here are a few use cases we’re seeing growth in.

Tutoring Platforms

The quickest bandaid for most students/parents finding themselves overwhelmed or behind, tutoring is booming and not likely to slow down any time soon. Video conferencing can be used to connect tutors and students 1:1 from the comfort of their homes. This will remain attractive even post-COVID; who doesn’t want to save themselves a drive across town? Or what if you find a tutor with the perfect expertise or a strong rapport with your child who isn't local? Educational video conferencing is the answer.

eLearning Platforms

We expect eLearning as an industry to grow over time, sparked by COVID but not sustained by it. eLearning platforms are picking up the slack from unprepared traditional educators and betting on the future. In countries like India, the distance learning model has been in place for some time to overcome teacher shortages. Companies like Next Education provide remote, interactive classes and adaptive assessments via live streaming sessions to millions of children through their website and app  Here in the U.S. remote education is picking up fast, and we anticipate continued growth and innovation. 

Exam Proctoring

When you’re providing a platform for remote learning, your users may want to administer tests remotely as well. Remote exam proctors use video conferencing and screen sharing to “watch” students take their exam and maintain the high security standards necessary for testing.

Distance Special Education

When schools were forced to go remote earlier this year, there was justifiable concern for some of the most vulnerable students in special education programs. How can educators be sure they’re receiving the support they need? For this population, video conferencing can be a lifesaver in an ocean of confusion. Platforms like Presence Learning exist to meet this need. They connect special needs students with licensed school-based clinicians who can help fill the gaps left by a public school system falling behind. And as the schools begin to catch up, they, too, can utilize video conferencing through dedicated applications to serve their students from a distance.

Brick and Mortar Education

Traditional education isn’t likely to disappear any time soon; as soon as it’s deemed safe, parents are sure to embrace physical school days again. The alternative, everybody homeschooling or distance learning forever, may be viable in higher education institutions that have a more mature student body, but is simply not sustainable in K-12 schools where social emotional development is a big part of the experience, not to mention parents who work during the day. Spend five minutes on social media to hear all about it; parents are stretched paper thin.

But still, the brick and mortar schools of yesterday are likely to change considerably post-COVID. We predict many traditional organizations will want to introduce or accelerate video-based instruction:

  • Traditional Tutoring Centers: connecting students to tutors in an online setting, in small groups and virtual classrooms

  • Training Organizations: connecting professionals and enthusiasts to certificate-based programs via small group, classroom, and 1:1 instruction

Purpose-Built Applications

You won’t find a bank or a hospital  using out-of-the-box meeting applications, because they’re not secure and both are highly-regulated industries which have benefited from rules that aim to protect consumers' assets and privacy. 

Education has some of the same needs, though, needs that are currently going largely unmet. This is why we anticipate a new wave of purpose-built applications for education in the not-too-distant future. These applications will offer embedded communications, like messaging, voice, and video, in a single secure and easy-to-navigate environment. 

Purpose-built applications offer a myriad of benefits you won’t find with out-of-the-box apps:

Access Control

Applications built with a Video API are inherently more secure than general purpose conferencing tools, since all access is completely controlled by the application, requiring app-specific login and verification. Video is only allowed within the context of the authenticated application itself, which can completely control how it is used and what capabilities are provided to different roles (customer/financial advisor, doctor/patient, student/teacher ). There are no vulnerable links with “secure” passwords to share; instead, there are personalized and verifiable accounts and auditable session logs. 

Device Compatibility

A Video API can be embedded in native mobile apps for Android and iPhone, or it can enable web-based applications that run inside a browser and require no extra downloads (which are potentially spoofable or require relaxed security on the device used). Vonage Video API uses native WebRTC within the browser which requires no plugin. Alternatively, the app publisher may choose to build a dedicated mobile or desktop application which, again, will require only the installation of a single app that can do it all.

Logging and Analytics

Further, and of particular interest in Education, applications built with APIs have access to internal application-level logging and analytics to help manage everything from student progress, to user experience, and potential security exceptions. Obtaining such insight from general conferencing tools is difficult to impossible.

Conclusion

Our data paints a bleak picture of video in education, but that can and most likely will change, even as soon as the 2020-2021 school year. The main hurdle between education and truly secure and controllable virtual classrooms is the lack of built-for-purpose applications in the educational space. We see this changing rapidly, though, as eLearning platforms pick up the slack and begin offering future-proof solutions to education’s video problems. Someday, nobody will have to deal with zoom bombs or 30 children anonymously muting each other and the teacher just for kicks.

Vonage Solutions

Build safe and responsive learning experiences on the world's most flexible cloud communications platform. Vonage Communication APIs enable global pioneers in EdTech to meet challenges of digital learning with programmable video, voice, messaging, and authentication built into every learning experience. 

 

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