How Schools Are Using Technology Responding To COVID-19

Photo of Michelle ReedResponses from Michelle Reed, online video strategist, Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) in Cleveland Ohio.

How are school districts and colleges and universities responding to COVID-19?

At Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) in Cleveland Ohio, the Online Learning and Academic Technology (OLAT) team has been engineering their online learning environment for over 4 years now to move the college to a more mobile friendly and seamless way to offer online classes to students. With the college’s decision to switch to all online learning due to COVID-19, the structure was already there. The technology was in place. We did increased manpower for our SmartView help desk level 2 support system.

What technologies are they using to connect with students and even parents in an attempt to minimize the disruption? 

Tri-C is utilizing our currently engineered online learning technologies including Blackboard Learn (LMS), Mediasite (Lecture Capture), Webex (video conferencing), ProctorU (for proctored testing), Respondus (lock down browser), Qwickly (single hub distribution point in the LMS to post announcements, distribute content and create discussion topics)

What have been the results? What works? What only causes more friction?

We have had great success with our currently engineered technologies. We worked with our vendors to increase storage, licenses, users, etc., to accommodate the fact that we more than doubled the amount of classes and users in our online environment.

One area that we have seen as the most challenging is getting technology in faculty and students hands. Tri-C worked with faculty and staff to ensure they were equipped with technology and internet at home to telework. Tri-C teamed up with PCs for People (a nonprofit dedicated to getting computers and affordable internet service into the homes of low-income individuals. www.pcsforpeople.org) to provide computers to students.

Are your IT and service teams able to meet the need in the new era or have you been caught flat footed?

Our support team in ITS and in OLAT did not increase but we were prepared to bring in other areas of the college to help assist at a level two support with our SmartView Blackboard support cases. We have created video repositories to house training videos for the technologies our faculty and students are using.  This allows the support team to send one to three minute videos links that can address their concerns and give them a screencast of the process to follow which results in the increased amount of faculty that can be served.

We created a weekly training schedule that consists of training sessions on the hour, using Webex, to allow faculty the ability to connect in to learn and ask questions which are recorded for on-demand viewing. We have created an extensive online document that includes information faculty and students need, located all in one location.  We have also extended the hours that level 2 and level 3 support are available to meet the needs of faculty and students that are jumping into the use of the online tools that were mostly using the face-to-face modality.

Schools and Education Technology In The Time of COVID-19

Christopher Lazartic
Chris Lazartic

Responses from Chris Lazartic, middle school STEAM coach, student leadership and enterpreneurship coach, Aspen Academy

Are you moving to e-learning platforms? Which vendors are you partnering with to deliver these solutions?

 On March 16th, Aspen Academy transitioned to a virtual learning platform. Luckily, most teachers, students and parents were already familiar with their learning management system (LMS): Canvas. This online tool allows teachers to communicate grades, assignments, and much more to students and parents. Aspen has also purchased Zoom Education host accounts for every teacher, which allows them to teach live classes and record those lessons if needed.

Additionally, all students in grades two and above are provided with Google accounts, which allow them to use Google apps, such as Docs, Classroom and Slides. Students can also continue to use nearly all of their texts and academic learning tools because they are available online. In some grades, students were issued iPads or loaned computers.

Are your IT and service teams able to meet the need in the new era or have you been caught flat footed?

Two weeks prior to this transition, Aspen Academy began proactively communicating, training and preparing for virtual learning and created a Virtual Learning Hub with FAQs for parents. Although the technologies and systems did not work perfectly the first week, teachers were flexible and quickly adapted to this new style of teaching. The middle school, lower school and programs directors, along with the school’s technology manager, were available around the clock to help all users.

In the event of a significant technology issue, Aspen also supported by an outside IT company, Alerio Technology Group. We’ve received more than 90 testimonials from parents who felt the technology and teaching exceeded their expectations, like this one:

“It went surprisingly SO much smoother than I anticipated for the first day! There were no technical difficulties, you all had your lesson plans organized and were able to clearly explain the work the kids needed to do! THANK YOU for your dedication and hard work to all of our kiddos – you are so greatly appreciated!” — parent of third-grade student

Any and all perspectives wanted. Good and bad, lessons learned, best practices and guidance for others.

Our teachers host online office hours, and one thing we’ve noticed is that students are wanting more connection and support during this social distancing. In some cases, teachers are Google Hangouts with students until 7 p.m. For the teachers, it can also be a balancing act if they’re teaching from home and have their own children at home. Many are working longer hours than anticipated to create lessons and provide the personalized experience they pride themselves on. The school sent our faculty GrubHub certificates after the first week as a way of saying, “thank you,” for teachers’ Herculean efforts to go live over the weekend.

How We’ve Responded To The Challenges Brought On By COVID-19: Touro College

Marian Stoltz-Loike, Ph.D., Dean of Lander College for Women
Dr. Marian Stoltz Loike

Responses from Dr. Marian Stoltz Loike, vice president for online education at Touro College and dean of Touro’s Lander College for Women.

How are you responding to the present crisis, and what technologies are you using to connect with students and even parents in an attempt to minimize the disruption?

We are delivering synchronous zoom classes to most students since school was shut down. There are also students who take asynchronous online courses.  Most faculty teaching the synchronous courses have not taught online previously. Faculty teaching asynchronously have been well-trained and often have been teaching online for many years.

Faculty lectures to students over Zoom, integrating interactive exercises to keep students engaged.  They use online tools, like surveys or breakout rooms to enable students to interact with material and one another.

Through combined efforts of the Instructional Design and Instructional Technology teams, faculty have been trained and supported in teaching online. We have produced video and print tutorials and peer-to-peer training. We have also offered online support.

Because Touro has been ahead of the curve in moving online we have had a smooth transition, lauded by both students and faculty. We are also helping other schools succeed in online pedagogy. For example, last night one of the division of the graduate school of education held a webinar for more than 85 middle and high school teachers to help them build skills in online pedagogy by teaching them about online tools, like quizlets, quizis, edpuzzle, cahoots, and other tools.

What have been the results? What works? What only causes more friction?

Very successful. One-on-one training for novices, webinars and group sessions for more advanced faculty.  Broader helpdesk support has been important for students. Students and faculty have reported tremendous satisfaction with the transition to remote learning.

Nothing is causing more friction; however, some students report that the demands at home make it difficult for them to focus on learning. Parents want them to help with watching younger siblings or doing household chores to provide parents with bandwidth to work.

Several faculty members have lost their babysitters and are unable to deliver classes to students while they take care of young children. In each case we have found a way that is sensitive to both the faculty member and students’ educational needs.

Please name the technology you’re using in your response and the approaches you are taking. Are you moving to e-learning platforms?

Continue Reading

How To Engage Schools and Students In The Time of COVID-19

Rick Merrick
Rick Merrick

Response from Rick Merrick, chief information officer, TCS Education System

We have been in a race to respond to coronavirus and its impact on our colleges.

We were seeing the virus spread in other countries and watching their response, so we knew it was only a matter of time before the U.S. took social distancing measures and issue stay at home orders.

Given that reality, we focused our efforts on the following items:

  1. Ordering laptops and other equipment to support a remote workforce
  2. Reviewing/ordering necessary licenses to support a remote workforce
  3. Reviewing bandwidth requirements and networking devices to support increase VPN demands
  4. Developing and scheduling necessary technology training for all employees to prepare them for first day at home
  5. Reviewing security practices to respond to new attack vectors
  6. Meeting with academic leaders to develop a plan to transition all students to distance education using new tools

To assist with the transition, we trained the organization on Microsoft Teams. This is the primary tool we use to manage remote employees and departmental teams. We also use two additional video conferencing solutions to help with meetings and delivering synchronous distance education, they are GoToMeeting and Zoom. All students, faculty, and staff have a license for GTM.

Our e-leaning platform is Canvas. We have implemented new ways of using Canvas to support on-ground programs to assist with the transition to online. We are exploring other learning tools to help with the transition, like Respondus, depending on the department or programmatic requirements. We are still exploring new solutions; however, we have seen our colleges adjust curriculum rather than try and solve every problem with technology.

The community has been exceptionally patient throughout this process. They understand the tremendous challenge everyone is facing through this transition, including the strains on the IT department. Many of the challenges have been outside of our control, such as outages with Zoom, Teams, GTM, and home internet providers. These outages are a result of millions of new remote workers using these platforms for the first time, causing unprecedented traffic on the platforms. Most employees have been very understanding of this reality.

Our organization did not anticipate this pandemic, as our business continuity plans did not account for a remote workforce transition that would be nationwide. This provided unique challenges for everyone, including our technology team. However, we have been able to respond quickly to the crisis and keep the organization operating and able to serve our students and faculty.

COVID-19’s Impact On Technology For Students At Cicero District 99

Responses from Superintendent Rodolfo Hernandez, Cicero District 99 (D99).

Rodolfo Hernandez

D99 is a public elementary school district in Cicero, Ill., a near-west suburb of Chicago that is home to more than 82,000 residents. The district includes 16 schools and educates more than 13,000 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, most of whom (95%) come from bilingual or English-learning households.

The district is transformative and has been a statewide leader in providing innovative, 21st-century learning opportunities to empower the young people of its diverse, bilingual community. It arms its students, the majority of whom are low income, with skills, tools, knowledge and mindsets to effectively prepare them for global opportunities of the future — in education and the ever-changing workforce.

How are you responding and what technologies are you using to connect with students and even parents in an attempt to minimize the disruption? What have been the results? What works? What only causes more friction?

Our response to wide-spread school closures has been seamless, as we’ve transitioned to instructional delivery, remotely. As a 1:1 device district for several years now, teachers and students are familiar with the various online platforms, resulting in online content delivery requiring minimal adjustments from both staff and students. Through the creation of an eLearning group within the Schoology learning management system, we were able to provide a curriculum repository where all staff has access to a variety of informational items and resources, related directly to the district eLearning expectations. The collaborative feed within our platform allows for the open exchange of ideas between group members, while also providing the platform to pose questions or challenges. Due to the open nature of this forum, information exchanged remains visible to all group members, thereby casting a wider communication net.

While the familiarity with our online platforms and resources has supported a smooth transition into eLearning, our structures for effective communication have served as a pillar to bolster our systems. Our public relations team continues to communicate with our stakeholders through social media, with our district website serving as an up-to-date resource for all information related to the district. Additional communication occurs through the use of robocalls and the implementation of a district hotline, which funnels all incoming calls to appropriate personnel. To provide consistency in messaging across all tiers, District personnel provide daily updates to all administrators and staff, summarizing pertinent information from state and federal agencies.

Although the transition to a remote learning and working environment has been a change in practice for everyone involved, the outcomes have been extremely positive. This success can be attributed to the foundational work of both curriculum and technology departments, in order to provide a strong foundation in the event conditions necessitated a move to eLearning for the district. Cicero District 99 was one of the few districts in Cook County to have an eLearning Plan already in place and approved by the Regional Office of Education.

In addition to having a dedicated administration and teaching staff, committed to meeting the needs of our students during this challenging period, we credit a stable and reliable infrastructure, the delivery of countless hours of professional development in the area of technology integration, a dedicated technology support arm, and effective processes and procedures for the smooth transition to eLearning.

Are you using technology? If so, what are the approaches you are taking? Are you moving to eLearning platforms? Which vendors are you partnering with to deliver these solutions?

District 99 teachers have access to numerous online platforms to deliver instruction. Teachers can choose to hold class discussions and deliver classroom assignments through Schoology or Google Classroom. This flexibility allows teachers the autonomy to use the tools that work best for their course and their students.  The results demonstrate that our students have the opportunity to be engaged in learning while at home.

An additional layer of support for implementation has been real-time coaching in this eLearning environment. While teachers and students have been immersed in digital learning in the classroom, the transition to full time eLearning has presented new learning for the teaching staff.  The coaching support staff in our district has quickly moved to digital coaching through platforms such as Google Meets, Google Chats, and through Schoology.

Continue Reading

School Technology In The Time of COVID-19

Response from Gabriela Martorell, professor of developmental psychology, Virginia Wesleyan University and a textbook author.

Gabriela Martorell
Gabriela Martorell

Like many people, we’ve been asked to shift our face-to-face (FTF) classes to an online format. Generally, teaching an online class is something you approach thoughtfully. It’s not a matter of just uploading a few documents and calling it a day. Not all approaches that work well in a FTF format work well online. Plus, we’re asking students to adapt to a format they didn’t sign up for.

Prior to teaching a class online, there’s generally a checklist of technology provided in the syllabus. So, students know from the beginning what type of technology they’ll need and they can opt to either not take the class or get access to the technology. With switching midway through the semester, there may be issues of access to computers and reliable internet service for some students, all against a backdrop of a global pandemic and the fear and anxiety that inspires. So, there need to be alternatives and contingencies provided to students who may have more difficulty with making the switch.

There are a number of platforms that can support the switch to online instruction. Many textbook companies sell books that can be bundled with online platforms. While you generally must pay an additional fee to access the platforms in light of the pandemic some textbook companies are offering free access to their online platforms for those students who already purchased hard copies of books for their classes. This is a great option for faculty that are already using these books and need supplementation.

The website platforms are designed to integrate with the existing texts and can be used to switch learning online, similar to what happens in a flipped classroom (where content is learned online and then applied or integrated in the classroom). So, for example, McGraw-Hill has a system called Connect, which has interactive learning modules — kind of like flashcards — that walk students through material. They also have interactive activities that can be used to supplement course content.

For instance, in developmental psychology courses they can play a “game” where they make choices for animated characters and get to see the consequences of those choices. Similar options are available in other fields. For faculty that have used a traditional FTF format, this might provide a way to supplement course materials.

Discussion postings are frequently used, but unless you are very careful with how you structure them, they tend not to be very interactive or substantial. You get a lot of “I agree with so-and-so” type of comments which aren’t very intellectually stimulating. A different option I’ve used that works much better is online annotations. I use a platform called Perusall. It’s set up like social media, so students highlight a passage, and can then comment, ask and answer questions on, use emojis, link material, and “like” other students’ comments.

Generally, I find the discussions that result in that format are far more natural and complex than most discussion boards, I think in part because the format is familar to students. You can upload your own content for free, or Perusall has paired with textbook companies and students can purchase their e-books directly off there. Because of the pandemic, textbook companies have agreed that if you are already using their books (either electronic or hard copies) for a course, they will pair the books with Perusall for no added cost.

Another alternative to discussion postings is Flipgrid videos. With Flipgrid, you can ask a discussion question, but rather than answering in writing, students are asked to upload a video. It’s easy to do with a smart phone, which almost all students have. The videos can be set up in a grid, and you can provide options for length, and whether or not students can respond to each other in a sort of delayed conversation.

Zoom, of course, is also a great option. The free version allows you to hold a video meeting for up to 100 people for up to 40 minutes, and there are various pricing plans for other options. While actual conversations are hard if too many people are on a Zoom meeting, you can provide an online synchronous lecture, and even record if if someone can’t make the meeting time and wants to watch it later. You can also provide a chat bar on the side for students to make comments on as you speak. That can be more effective than just having everyone chime in with verbal questions.

Leveraging Learning Opportunities: Student Support In A 1:1 Environment

By Zach Vander Veen, vice preisdent and co-founder, Abre.io.

When schools embrace a one device to one student program, they inherit concerns on keeping devices functional and lasting. What is the best way to provide support for occasional breaks, wear and tear, and the grime of daily use? Most school tech teams operate on shoestring budgets. They’re limited in their monetary and staffing resources.

Fortunately, students have the unique opportunity to support the infrastructure while partaking in a class that covers a wide variety of topics relating to technology. Around the country, schools that embrace 1:1 initiatives are learning to leverage learning opportunities for their students. We’re going to look into how Hamilton City School District supports 11,000 Chromebooks with students who participate in the Technology Support and Innovation class.

The class begins with a study checklist. Each small group of students has an objective and job broken into geographical regions of the school. One group heads down the hall to Mr. Becket’s class with a substitute cart of Chromebooks. They return a few minutes later with his classroom cart complete with several devices with cracked screens. The checklist comes out and they begin to walk through procedures. They clean, they repair, and they inspect all the while laughing and cracking occasional pop-culture jokes.

“Students are an untapped resource, and we use their talents and abilities to contribute to protecting the assets of the district, says Tricia Smith, Tech Director at Hamilton City Schools.  “Students are interested in learning Chromebook repair skills.  With the correct training and nurturing of 21st-century skills, our students have become an integral part of protecting and maintaining our student devices.”

The Framework

Hamilton approached having a student Technology Support Team with a few objectives.

  1. Support the district’s 1:1 program.
  2. Provide learning opportunities for students.
  3. Maintain an expect cost structure.

A robust framework was crucial to the success of implementing a 1:1 program supported by students. While it took some refining, the district settled on a structure that consisted of five key components.

Continue Reading

TOPdesk Partners with Nearly One Quarter of All Universities in the UK

TOPdesk, a leading provider of enterprise IT service management solution, announces that, because of its committment to serving schools, colleges and universities, it has secure partnerships with more than 23% of all universities in the U.K. In 2019, TOPdesk UK added nine new university clients.

Institutions such as Heriot-Watt University, the University of Central Lancashire, and the University of Kent signed with the vendor in 2019 to automate service and support, and enhance their service offerings to internal staff and students.

With the additional university clients added last year, a total of 37 universities in the UK now trust TOPdesk with their enterprise service management needs to; utilise the usage of the self-service portal, implement quick links and standard solutions, and visibility for cross-departmental working.

In light of this success in the sector, TOPdesk UK has formed an internal business unit to focus exclusively on serving the needs of its higher education customers.

Will Sibley, TOPdesk UK’s head of education sales, said: “I am always pleased to welcome universities to the TOPdesk family, and last year it’s was great to have welcomed so many excellent institutions of higher education.

“In 2020, we will continue our growth in this sector, while also focussing on strengthening our current partnerships with these educational entities to provide them with as much value as possible.”

About TOPdesk

TOPdesk develops, implements, and supports an enterprise service management (ESM) solution that helps universities and organisations efficiently manage the services they provide. Departments such as IT, HR, facilities, and library, and student services, can perform their work both collaboratively and separately with a single tool. TOPdesk is available as a local installation or Software-as-a-Service, and the solution can be tailored to meet every organisation’s needs.

TOPdesk has 15 branches worldwide: in UK, USA, Canada, Brazil, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Denmark, Norway, and Australia. Visit www.topdesk.co.uk for more information.

Tools4ever Is Returning To The Brainstorm Educational Technology Conference

Image result for tools4ever logo

Tools4ever, a leading global provider of identity and access governance solutions, demonstrates its continual commitment to enhancing classrooms via EdTech with its yearly attendance at the Brainstorm Educational Technology Conference. The conference will take place from Mar. 1–3, 2020, at the Kalahari Resort & Convention Center in Wisconsin Dells, WI.

The Brainstorm Educational Technology Conference emphasizes a focus on connecting education IT technologists with EdTech vendors, providing networking opportunities to make long-lasting connections that can endure for years. Tools4ever will be found at Booth 205 for quality EdTech conversations and networking opportunities.

In addition to developing new connections, Tools4ever will be live-demoing its cloud-based Identity Management and single sign-on solution, HelloID, throughout the conference. HelloID is widely used by hundreds of schools, colleges, and universities throughout North America to bring power back to the classroom via seamless, secure access to EdTech.

By providing students and staff with a user-friendly dashboard containing all of their approved applications via single sign-on, HelloID eliminates wasted, unproductive time and truly makes the classroom a “bell-to-bell” experience.

Brainstorm is making its mark on the EdTech community and is quickly growing in popularity among attendees. This year marks the second year in a row that Brainstorm has made it to the Top 5 of Forbes’ Innovative Conferences list.

“BrainStorm is one of the premier events for EdTech staff and Tools4ever is excited to be a part of this conference to meet with our district and vendor partners. With more than 20 years of experience helping districts plan and implement their identity management strategy, this year we are looking forward to showcasing our innovative cloud identity solution, HelloID, designed to help districts move towards a more secure and modern experience for single sign-on, MFA and provisioning,” said Drew Olson, sales manager, Tools4ever.

Brainstorm attendees — covering IT directors, tech coordinators, system and network admins, desktop techs, and more — can visit over 120 technology-focused sessions, network with peers in the K20 community or visit vendor booths for hands-on demos of the newest innovations in the EdTech space.

Conference information — such as breakout sessions and speakers — and registration are available here: https://brainstormk20.com/wisconsindells/attend.

How Are Education’s IT Leaders Changing Their Environments For The Better?

Response from Gary Hoberman, CEO and founder, Unqork.

Image result for Gary Hoberman, CEO and founder, Unqork
Gary Hoberman

IT leaders are focused on technologies that are intuitive for parents and teachers to use on any device, from anywhere. New York City’s Department of Education’s new CIO Anuraag Sharma said it well: “Our classrooms must be equipped with the modern-day tools and technology our students need to succeed.”

Leveraging cloud-based platforms is key to achieving that. By far, the shift to cloud has been a huge benefit for educational institutions. According to AWS, 96% of the top research institutions use AWS in some way. This is really laying a foundation for new innovation in education

What are your greatest concerns?
Legacy code —in education and in the public sector generally—is a millstone around innovation’s neck.

Keeping existing systems running sucks up scarce IT resources, and the people who know what’s needed best—teachers and administrators—can’t help, because they can’t code.

Unqork enables institutions to leverage everything they can from existing systems, and our no-code tools puts digitization into the hands of the people who know what students and parents need.

Large school districts are especially burdened with many different disconnected systems and multiple logins for teachers, administrators and parents. This makes communications between these constituencies even harder – keeping in mind the end goal is helping students be successful.

How are you addressing the most critical problems (and what are these problems)?
Related to legacy code and also the ability to find and hire new engineers, at Unqork we are a no-code platform that allows educational institutions to build in a completely visual environment. In fact we can switch or upgrade technologies and users don’t even know it.

Continue Reading