Coronavirus is causing schools all over the world to close - and the UK can't be very far behind.
If - or when - it happens here in the UK, us parents are going to be faced with needing to entertain and educate our offspring Monday-Friday for potentially months.
Let's face it - it's going to be very easy to go a bit stir crazy. Whilst the world is going mad for the joys of working from home, social connectivity is important for a good sense of wellbeing and I think it'll be lovely if kids can stay in touch with - and see - their friends.
It was whilst I was wondering how we'd structure our days at home and overcome the obstacles, that I came up with an idea based on our practices at work.
In our (web development) industry, it's common - especially in agile development, done in short bursts (sprints) - to have a "stand up" every morning. This is where the whole team stand up - ideally in a different room to where they normally work - and quickly tell the rest of the team what they did yesterday, what they intend to do tomorrow, and what challenges they face and so if they need any support with anything. Standing up and changing rooms is supposed to help focus the mind and ensure everyone is engaged with what's going on - the quiet one in the corner can't keep checking his emails whilst his colleagues are talking. The whole thing should take about 10 minutes (depending on how many of you there are to talk).
Suddenly it dawned on me that this would be a great basis for helping people stay motivated and inspired with home schooling. No competition, no big time committment and no (unlike at work) obligation to participate. However - all done remotely, with video calls. Video really makes the difference to keeping people feeling intouch, and we're using video a lot every day at the moment now we're all working from home.
Given the nature of my work (technical planning), I couldn't have the idea without trying to think out the details so here goes:
- The Class Stand Up should be at the same time every day, Mon-Fri. I'd suggest 10am... if parents have work to get started, or things to get straight first, it's not first thing, but it's still in the morning.
- It's totally, always, completely optional. If someone wants to turn up every day - great. If someone wants to come along once or twice a week, no problem. If someone in the class never comes, it doesn't matter at all. But the option is always there for them.
- If you do turn up, you don't need to speak. We don't want to put people off attending. If you do attend, people should just quickly get started - potentially in the order they're displayed on the screen, saying a couple of things that they did yesterday or that they intend to do today. To keep things moving, it'd be a good idea to chat over with your kid what they're going to say first - and whether you're going to talk or they are. Remember, stand ups are short and snappy and shouldn't take over the day or distract from getting work done. If you want a longer call about something in particular, you can just arrange that separately.
- It doesn't rely on someone starting the call. Things like Skype for Business have an organiser, and if you arrive before the call starts you're in a "virtual lobby" waiting for the call to start. In the spirit of item 2 in this list, and seeing's as I was the one suggesting this, I didn't want one person - probably me - to HAVE to attend every day otherwise no one else could.
- Ideally, I didn't want anyone to have to download any software, so it was super easy.
- Any software had to be free. I completely appreciate the work that goes into development - it's what I do for a living - but we're all in a boat we don't want to be in, with a lot of economic uncertainty around. So it'd need to be a free service that allowed at least 30 people to use it at once, incase the whole class wanted to join in.
The technical bit
Because of #5 in my list, I headed straight to Whereby.com - a tool I've loved in the past (when it was called appear.in) because it's all browser based. You don't need to download anything, you just rock up at a URL and anyone who's looking at that URL at any time can join in the video call. Unfortunately though, I found that their free tier only allows up to 4 participants. So I'm mentioning this here incase any small groups of friends are looking for a solution and don't want to download anything - but it won't work for whole classes.
So next on my list was Zoom - the video conferencing tool apparently taking the world by storm. We've used this a lot with clients, but always initiated by them - and we'd always waited in a waiting room before they started the meeting. However - when I had a look, this is all optional and it'll do exactly what we need. The free tier allows up to 100 participants in a video call which is more than enough (that'd be a pretty boring and long stand up) and calls can only be 40mins long if you have 3 or more participants - which again is perfect and should help focus the mind that this should just be a quick catch up.
The other downside about Zoom - for this purpose - is that you do need to download software to your computer, or the app on your phone. But it's simple to do - if you don't tend to like installing stuff on your computer then head to the app which works well for what you'll need.
Getting set up
To get started, someone from your class just needs to go to Zoom and sign up for free. Click the link in the email they'll send you and enter your name and create a password - you can then skip the next step about "inviting colleagues" at this stage.
When you log in, you'll be on your Profile page. From the left hand menu, select "Meetings" and then click on the blue "Schedule a new meeting" button.
On the following page, do the following:
- Give your meeting a title - I opted for "Class Stand Up"
- Give your meeting a short description - I did "Daily, totally optional, informal catch up on what we did yesterday and what we might do today."
- Enter the date of your first stand up... in the UK the schools aren't closed yet so we don't know when this will be, so you'll need to wait until the schools close to set this up!
- Select how long your call will be - remember it has to be 40 minutes or less to be free, so you might need to select 30 minutes as it gives you options for 15, 30 or 45. I'm not sure to be honest if it'll kick you out after 30 or if this is just to give your attendees (in a normal business situation) an idea of how long to expect the call to be.
- Select your timezone.
- And then tick the "recurring meeting" box.
- I gave my meeting a recurrance of "Daily", "Repeat every 1 day" with an end date of "After 20 days" (as 20 was the highest number - I can go back at a later date and do the same again once those 20 days run out).
- Personally I untick the need for a meeting password.
- I then select that the host and participants should have the option of video (so set it to ON).
- For audio, I select "both", but I have a message on my screen tonight telling me that phone dial ins aren't currently available on the free plan given the extra strain they're under at the moment.
- I then tick "Enable join before host" as this means people can have the call without me needing to be there. And ensure "Mute participants upon entry", "Enable waiting room" and "Record the meeting automatically" aren't ticked.
- I then click Save!
The following screen confirms my settings, and if you scroll to the bottom you have the option of saving this call as a template, which will be handy when the 20 days are up and you want to do it all over again. This screen also contains a URL for your meeting, which you can pass to all the parents in your class - hopefully you've got a class WhatsApp group which proves really useful in our school.
As I mentioned above, you do need to download something to use Zoom. So perhaps point this out to the parents you invite so they can get that ready in advance of your first call. I downloaded the iOS app whilst on the school run this morning when I realised I wasn't going to be back at my desk in time for my first call of the day, and had it all installed and working in a few minutes.
I hope this helps - please do let us know on social media (twitter, facebook or - my fave - the 'gram) if you do this idea with the hashtag #classstandup ... share any home teaching inspiration that's come out of your group chats so we can share them with other parents the world over.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash