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.
Responses from Noreen Lace, professor, California State University, Northridge.
I’m a professor at California State University, Northridge. We went online pretty quickly. We had little notice; however, in addition to my traditional classes I’ve been teaching online for a number of years, so making the transition was pretty easy for me. Even in my traditional classes, I use a variety of online methods, including ebooks, websites, and online activities.
A large number of our faculty have never taken any sort of training. Our tech department is great. They were able to schedule back to back online trainings for people to be able to set up their classes during spring break, so they could be ready for returning students. Since then, they seem to have kept up with the demand. I called the other day and there was no hold/no wait time. My questions are answered right away.
We use Canvas as our learning management system. It’s simple to use. I tell my students, if you can upload an attachment in email, you can do this.
Many of the faculty have been using Zoom (in conjunction with Canvas). They’d hoped to use it to hold live classes — and I do believe some people are; however, we’re finding the system is becoming overloaded and not working well. Furthermore, we’ve recently found people have been hacking — or somehow crashing the live class and sharing/posting inappropriate screens and pictures within the live zoom sessions. They’re calling it zoombombing.
Because of the drain on the system, one of the methods I use is to record within the Canvas program and have the students respond the same way. I also use the traditional methods of written lecture notes along with their written responses. We have discussion boards, live chat features, as well as document sharing available to us within the program.
My students were supposed to do a presentation in class. I’ve since given them creative freedom and they can use any program they want and present in any way they feel works best for them. One of my students just asked me if they can use animation — so I’m quite excited to see the results.
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?
Learning Management system: Canvas
Web conferencing: Zoom
Calendars: Calendly, looking at Microsoft Bookings
Web storage: Canvas, Box and Kaltura
Exams: Examsoft; ProctorU; Respondus Lockdown Browser and Monitor
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:
Ordering laptops and other equipment to support a remote workforce
Reviewing/ordering necessary licenses to support a remote workforce
Reviewing bandwidth requirements and networking devices to support increase VPN demands
Developing and scheduling necessary technology training for all employees to prepare them for first day at home
Reviewing security practices to respond to new attack vectors
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.
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.