I am Tanya Sheckley, founder of UP Academy, a progressive elementary lab school for the inclusion of students with physical disabilities in San Mateo, California. As a small school, one of my many hats is head of IT.
Our school is small, creative and flexible in our teaching and our methods, we employ the feedback of our educators, students and parents as well as new research and ideas in education all the time. This nimbleness allowed us to pivot quickly to online learning.
We began with a split schedule, we have young learners and didn’t want them online for hours a day. Our educational method is individualized and uses technology sparingly, we believe individualized education should come from individuals. We had 30 minutes of Zoom educator time, 30 minutes independent work and a break in several cycles a day. We wanted to break up screen time with independence and play.
Lessons learned: Too little screen time does not allow for connection. Too many sign on/offs was difficult for parents and students.
Iteration two included weekly emails for parent preparation, adding school wide morning meeting time and parent feedback meetings and weekly staff meetings to discuss issues.
Lessons learned: To be successful the program must work for families philosophies and new challenges of timing and working from home (ours wasn’t). While morning meeting added a time to connect with the school, it wasn’t enough for students to get to chat with each other. Students need to learn and have time to talk, just like in school. Google Classroom assignments was sending 20 to 50 emails per week to families, it was overwhelming.
Iteration three: We turned off Classroom notifications, we changed our schedule to learning blocks and flexible learning time, we added a longer lunch break and more educator interaction on project work. We added a 30 min 1:1 session with each student and educator to talk about whatever they wanted — it could be school work or math questions, or it could be sharing a favorite book or talking about coloring the millenium falcon — the goal is the students mental health and knowing they had another adult, besides a parent, to connect with and talk to.
Responses from Patrick Fogarty, director of technology, Jericho Union Free School District.
How are school districts and colleges and universities responding, and what technologies are they 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?
Once we knew a shutdown beyond one or two days was coming, we plotted out a distance learning program that incorporated software our teachers are comfortable with, like Canvas and Classroom, and new software, like Zoom and Meet, into a larger tapestry of services. The most challenging aspect of this was distributing hundreds of Chromebooks on short notice. Not only are you accommodating families, you also have to take care of your own staff, who are now working from home with their spouses and children also needing devices to use.
Are you moving to e-learning platforms? Which vendors are you partnering with to deliver these solutions?
Our district is fortunate in that we were already using Canvas by Instructure as our learning management system, and so we had a digital learning platform available from the first day we were shut down. Canvas has built in video streaming through their Conferences feature, and while it takes quite a while for recordings to be uploaded to course pages, it does provide a solid foundation for synchronous virtual instruction.
We are also supporting Google Classroom and Google Meet. The tools we can use are limited, because we are working to comply with Ed law 2-d (including the recently adopted part 121), and several popular streaming services are not currently compliant with these regulations. I think Canvas and G Suite have worked well for most students, though I wonder if using these platforms for Kindergarteners doesn’t create more friction than it resolves. We’ve had success using Zoom for administrative meetings and teacher-to-teacher conferencing.
Are your IT and service teams able to meet the need in the new era or have you been caught flat footed?
We did three things to slow the immediate crush of support needs: began using Slack as a team, created a helpline phone extension, and began using a dedicated tech support email address, since users no longer had one-click access to our ticketing system. I feel like those three actions, combined with staggering shifts a bit to increase the surface of our coverage, have helped us stay ahead of the support needs.
Lessons learned, best practices and guidance for others?
I think this is an amazing, perhaps unprecedented opportunity for us to reconsider how our schools work. Hundreds of thousands of teachers, students, and administrators are using new digital tools, flipping their classrooms, providing synchronous instruction remotely, and doing exciting, innovative work with little prep time.
If this encourages more districts to send students home with mobile devices every day, and if it shifts our perceptions of when, where, and how schoolwork is done, those are significant steps forward as we incorporate digital tools into instruction.
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.