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.