By Wayne D’Orio, a freelance journalist who writes frequently about education, equity, and rural issues. His education stories have taken him from backstage at Broadway’s Hamilton to crisscrossing the country on a bus trip with then Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. Follow Wayne on Twitter @waynedorio.
In the best of times, cloud computing is like a utility few people think about. When it’s effective, it’s invisible. When it’s not, like when a breach spills personal information where it shouldn’t be, it can be impossible to try to undo the damage.
For school leaders, these worries are multiplied. Deciding whether to use the cloud isn’t a simple yes or no question for most administrators. They need to factor in the safety of student information, cost, ease of use, and understanding of what apps and content management systems their districts are using. On top of those concerns, these days it’s imperative that whatever system schools use allow an easy transfer from remote learning to in-person instruction, potentially with a helping of hybrid mixed in.
“One size doesn’t fit all,” says Monte McCubbin, a systems engineer for Simi Valley Unified School District in California. Small districts are probably better off using a cloud solution, but larger districts, like his 17,000-student unified school district, have the option to build a private cloud, he adds.
The benefits of not being cloud-based is local control and security, says Al Kingsley, the CEO of NetSupport and a longtime education technology expert. Districts can also control data flow and capacity by relying on its own local area network. But there are just as many, if not more, benefits to using cloud computing, he says. Cloud benefits include flexibility, scalability, and redundancy. Because maintenance is the responsibility of the provider, schools can have a leaner IT staff, saving on personnel costs.
Even considering the pluses and minuses isn’t a zero-sum game, McCubbin says. Simi Valley has what’s best described as a hybrid cloud solution. His district uses the cloud for some services and keeps other information in-house.
“We feel like there are inefficiencies in having 17,000 devices go into the public cloud and then back,” he says. Also, because California law says districts have to keep personal student information from leaving the state, it’s easier to accomplish this with a local system.
While security is a major concern for all school IT administrators, McCubbin says he thinks his local network is less of a target for hackers than if he were part of a huge system with a 100 or more companies.
School officials have to remember that their choice of building their own network or choosing a cloud solution needs to work best for all their teachers, students, and in these remote learning days, parents, too.
It’s this last reason that the cloud has worked so well for her district, says Erica Smith, a sixth-grade teacher at Ready Springs School in Penn Valley, California. With students learning remotely and schools using a variety of tools, officials quickly realized that the district was overwhelming parents by expecting them to keep up with multiple apps and learning management systems depending on which schools their children attend. Continue Reading
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.