Little Johnny’s coughing is interrupting reading time in his third-grade class.
His teacher doesn’t want to cause him any unnecessary stress or shame by calling him out or asking him to go get a drink of water. But the class has to continue.
So the teacher just discreetly turns down the volume on his microphone.
Because little Johnny is attending school via video conference.
He may be laid up in bed, but he’s still listening intently to what is going on, and he’s still dreading his turn to read aloud to the class.
And while his coughing can be a booming reminder of his illness, there’s no way anyone else will be going home sick because of him.
That’s because video conferencing offers a safe and readily available way to let sick children stay up to date with their class work, stay in touch with their friends, and stay mentally active during long absences from the classroom.
Absence Makes the Mind Start to Wander
U.S. students miss an estimated 164 million days of school each year due to illness.
What’s more alarming is that studies have shown a student’s education is negatively affected after missing just 18 days within a year, a by-product of a system that depends on repetition and incremental learning that builds on what was learned the day or week before.
While that’s not the kind of absenteeism that a common cold or flu infection is going to generate, there are many chronic illnesses that can interrupt learning to that extent. And they’re far more common than you might think.
Chronic illness affects 15% to 18 % of U.S. children, and includes such disorders as asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, and congenital heart problems.
These sorts of problems often result in repeated visits to the doctor, hospital stays, and home confinement. And all of those events mean time out of school.
But a simple video conferencing setup at home, and a little forward thinking at school, can make sure sick kids don’t suffer the further burden of falling behind in their education.
A Video Conferencing Home Office for Junior
As with an adult setting up a home office, the key to making remote schooling workable is finding a place within the house that is both comfortable and free from distraction. While I speculated earlier about a bedridden student calling in from their own bedroom, the reality of being surrounded by all those toys and games may be a little too tempting for an imaginative young mind.
Perhaps a seat at the kitchen table in front of a solid laptop is a better choice. Or maybe Johnny could settle into mom or dad’s study and its walls of boring, dusty books.
On the tech front, it’s a just a matter of finding a video conferencing provider that’s easy to use and reliable, and an affordable camera that will provide quality visuals and clear sound.
It may take a little bit of negotiation with a child’s school to select an appropriate video chat service, as you’ll want to use one that integrates with the way they share documents and resources. For instance, if the teachers at school use Google docs, then Skype’s Word and Outlook preoccupation won’t mesh, and vice versa should you want to pair Microsoft products with Google Hangouts video chatting.
The school should also be able to warn you of any privacy or safety concerns they’ve encountered with particular services–or you can investigate for yourself at sites like Who is hosting this? or Internet Matters.
Remote Education for Sick Kids
Inside the classroom things get a little more complex. But that’s more a product of being spoilt for choice than being technologically overwhelmed.
A VC enabled teacher has to consider how the remote student will interact with the classroom. A giant screen featuring a classmate propped up like an ailing news broadcaster is clearly going to be a distraction. Perhaps a smaller, laptop-sized screen on teacher’s desk is more appropriate. This way the screen could be moved to accommodate intimate student-teacher contact, and to limit class-clown potential.
But there’s really no limit to possible arrangements.
A laptop with a healthy wifi connection would allow the sick student to “sit” at their usual desk, or be moved from room to room to attend class and library visits.
The teacher could also deploy a couple of webcams to give the child a simultaneous view of both their peers and the teacher in separate chat windows.
Any handwritten work could be shared through the camera–a document camera setup would work best for this–and anything digital could be submitted through a shared screen or simple document exchange.
And over video conference, unlike in real life, should our contagious student get a little rambunctious in his home surroundings, the teacher can always just lower the volume.