Verona Area School District administrative building March 2020

Verona Area School District administrative building March 2020

The outside of the Verona Area School District administration building.

Verona Area School District’s virtual classrooms got a little bit bigger this week.

As of Friday, May 1, the district is allowing teachers to videoconference with students via the Google Hangouts Meet app linked to district email accounts. Assistant superintendent of academic services Laurie Burgos said videoconferencing is another extension of both the brick-and-mortar and virtual classrooms.

Previously, administrators decided against using videoconferencing between teachers and students to give the district’s IT staff time to research the technology’s safety. There were a lot of reports in the news media of videoconferencing platforms not being as secure as promised, or cases of people “Zoom bombing” calls they weren’t invited to, Burgos told the Press Friday.

The district also wanted to develop a flexible learning plan, she said, knowing that all students might not be available for videoconferencing at the same time of day, based on their schedule or access to the internet.

“We wanted to focus on asynchronous learning, knowing that not all of our students have access, or even students who do have access, with everybody at home, competing for bandwidth,” Burgos said. “It’s really hard to be able to guarantee that anyone can be online at any particular time.”

The videoconferencing calls aren’t meant to replace the virtual teaching that’s going on, she said, rather they are meant to help educators answer student questions, prompt discussions or check in with them about social emotional topics.

“We really asked our staff to focus on the social emotional aspect and the benefits of being able to have that live interaction with kids to check in with them and see how they’re doing, be a friendly face and keep the connection and the relationship going,” Burgos said.

The district’s Google Hangout videoconferencing has limitations, though. Staff are not allowed to use a videoconference to talk to students one-on-one, nor are students allowed to use a call to talk to other students without a teacher present. Families also have the ability to opt their children out of participating in any videoconference calls, and those calls cannot be recorded.

And while administrators are uncertain what the future holds with extended school closures or impacts from COVID-19, Burgos said allowing teachers to start using videoconferencing expands the district’s options for virtual education in the future.

“The exciting part about opening this up right now is that it will give us some really good experiences to draw from, in thinking about any kind of virtual learning that we might have to do in the future,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll be back in school sooner than later, and we’re anxious for that to happen – in the meantime, it’s good to just improve our virtual learning practices.”

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at kimberly.wethal@wcinet.com and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.​