Determining the Right Plans Based on Your Inventory of Digital Resources
In this Emergency National Virtual Discussion, some of our nation’s most successful districts share how they kept the learning alive using resources at hand, while not missing a beat for their learners.
LeiLani Cauthen is CEO and Publisher at the Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub with 215,000 readers that provides context for schools in digital transition from a deep understanding of tech user experience, systems, and organization. According to Cauthen, “These are the questions that the Learning counsel is fielding from schools and districts as they tried to jump and just flip the switch and go digital. They run smack into the issue of, what do we even have? Traditionally, schools have done the master plans, the master curriculum map at the top and the district level and the school level. And then everything below that, once it gets into the teacher classrooms, is up to them. That's not necessarily working everywhere because you have teachers scheduling zoom meetings over the top of each other.
“So, the first thing that has to happen is to ask, what do you have? Is it just documents, is it short form digital, which is professional grade stuff, is it long form digital? Is it minor courses or courseware and there isn't a full course? Is it built in your LMS or is it an external site that you're accessing? I know a lot of districts have said that they're literally outsourcing a good portion of their curriculum right now to companies that are already stood up with full resources already in there. Is it just courseware or what kind of coursework is it? Is it full service with chatbot teaching and can your teachers be part of the chat bots?
“Those are the questions that are happening right now. So, we want to make sure that you are paying attention right now to the load on your teachers. When they were whole group teaching, they could do all the discipline and they could run all the analytics, they could do some minor personalization based on kids because they're still keeping everybody generally in the whole group. But when you moved into the digital side, suddenly the workload is going to be 10 times greater because running discipline on zoom right now, I could tell you stories, it's pretty wild. But that's an issue right now. So a lot of schools are looking at their mix, what's labor intensive for the individual teacher versus what they can do that's automated, where they're just having the kid log in and once the kid is in that system, it's sort of carrying them along through material and then they're intersecting back with the teacher through the dashboards, so the teacher can reach out and say, Hey, I need to help you with this.”
Becky Landa is the Executive Director of the Office of 21st Century Learning at San Antonio ISD. “We had already started working with pilot campuses going 1:1,” said Landa. “We had written so many different protocols, including from inventory of resources to software permission paths that we were looking at. Every one of those things helped us.
“We started with a digital playground. “We were actually on spring break when we ended up having to close. So right after spring break, the Friday before we ended up going online, getting things ready to go. By Monday, we had put together what we call a digital learning playground. And it was the first thing that we provided to our parents so that they knew school was continuing. You can imagine we had a curricular department that was working on some of the components for the curriculum. And on our side, it was establishing the curation of resources and in our population, the need to make sure that we had English as well as Spanish resources.
“In the digital playground, we were putting things like morning messages. We had choice boards for families to go in there and look at curriculum. And then we had other things as extensions because we didn't know at this point what our messaging was totally going to be for our parents. But what has really saved us right now has been the fact that we had an SSO as a district. We had removed our LMS and this year we had started transitioning teachers to Google classroom. And then we have to curate everything that the parent could use and click on and do on their own.”
Jim Fazzino, Supervisor of eLearning at Baltimore County Schools and Board of Education member, Cecil County Public Schools said, “We needed to make sure that we could provide teachers with a turnkey experience so they could connect with students and families, leveraging the resources that we currently have and making the lift short term as light as possible. We have Schoology as our learning management system. We had a different conferencing tool up until just two weeks ago when we discovered that the conferencing tool we were using could not sustain the load of 70,000 concurrent users along with the demand from other systems and other States. So, we had to switch over to Google Meet. We had been planning this remote learning for about two and a half weeks now and the professional development regarding Schoology and Google meet occurred all last week.
“Our biggest takeaways from this particular experience was how we want to leverage our layout and our template because we all have great digital content and we're not always sure what that digital content is. Teachers certainly can and often do bring in those open educational resources websites they discover on their own curricular offices and put them in curriculum. Then we have these subscriptions or fee-based services that we have access to as well. You start adding all these things into the pot and unfortunately it can become very confusing and pretty soon teachers are overwhelmed.
“So, we gave some very specific guidance, including templates on how to set up digital lessons in Schoology that are intended to be asynchronous learning experiences. So some of our, our short term resources and some of our more longstanding resources would be blended together into a single template. Students receive these lessons at the beginning of the week when they could be accessing a variety of digital content, but it's all streamlined in a way that the layout is easy to navigate. They're not logging into multiple vendors, they're not looking to multiple sites. It's all housed within the frame.”
Brian Seymour is the Director of Instructional Technology at the Pickerington Local School District. According to Seymour, “We have these things called blizzard bags and blizzard bags are basically online assignments that kids can do on days when school is closed. So, we went with that exact same model and said, you know, we've already got this in place. The other nice thing is about six years ago, we abandoned all textbooks. We also went completely 1:1. So with that, we took all our textbook money and turned it into software. One of our biggest things was, let's continue doing the good work that we're doing already in our classrooms. Across the district we adopted a form of blended learning we call ‘tradigital’ learning, which is the blending of best teaching practices from a traditional classroom with those of a digital classroom. So, our kids already had access to the entire Google suite. They already had access to iReady or ALEKS math or all of these different tools.”
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Generals will tell you that you go to war with the army you have. In these districts and districts around the country, educators have used the resources they have to educate our children in this time of forced virtual learning. The districts in this virtual discussion found ways to keep the learning going, and they share it in detail so you can learn from their success.