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3 ways to help teachers and students get the most out of online learning

March 18, 2020

Chris Brown, Director of Technology at Fremont County School District #1 in Lander, Wyoming, has been working with his team to prepare for a district-wide shut down. As a small district in a rural state, Fremont #1 faces some unique challenges—fewer wireless providers, limited connectivity—but much of the advice that Chris has to offer is relevant for districts of all sizes across the country as they prepare to support an extended period of mass remote instruction.

Below, Chris provides guidance on the steps that CTOs can take to prepare, and how they can best support teachers, students, and families as they transition to online learning. (For district leaders still considering whether or not online learning is the right choice for their students, click here to learn more from an EAB expert.)

1. Create a dedicated hub for IT questions and support

During a transition to online learning, the first step should be to ensure that information relevant to distance learning is clearly communicated and easy to find on the district website. This should include links to instructional applications and resources and instructions for how to access them (e.g. browser requirements, username/password instructions).

Create a new section focused entirely on these resources and be sure to leverage your social media presence to build awareness among students and parents. In every communication, point readers back to your website.

Share official information with families through multiple channels and engage interpreters if your constituents speak different languages. Consider conducting a test communication to confirm phone numbers for calls and texts to ensure your contact list is fully updated and ready.

Make sure that all teachers and staff understand the protocol for contacting your IT department for assistance with applications, links, and other facets of online delivery. 

For example, you may choose to only respond when tech requests are submitted through your ticketing system, as this enables your team to prioritize and track requests and solutions in one place.

Tech staff should also consider using the same communications tools as their teachers (e.g. Google Hangouts, posting in a Schoology group, etc.) in order to streamline communications and demonstrate tool usage. 

In addition to the assistance your IT staff provides, establish a collaborative group where teachers can post and share solutions or workarounds that they’ve found.  This can be done through a simple email chain, or in tools like Slack or Google Groups.  Be sure to publicize this in all tech-related communications to staff to keep them aware of its existence. 

Work with your teachers to ensure that they know which tools are available to them and what support you can provide for remote delivery of content.

Don’t let rumors hijack your message. Be proactive and over-communicate with busy teachers and families about the resources and support that are available to them!

2. Adapt instructional strategies for at-home learning

If your district is using multiple platforms, this may be a great time to standardize your instruction into a single LMS (e.g. Google Classroom, Canvas, or Schoology). 

Platform consolidation allows students to find their classes, activities, and assignments in a single platform, while also enabling parents and older students to more easily help younger children.

Using one LMS also allows your team to more easily provide helpful resources for teachers and staff. Video libraries can be built with step-by-step directions for creating and distributing work to students in an efficient and impactful way.

Encourage teachers to create “online routines” that will help to establish a predictable schedule for long-term online learning.

Older students may be able to work in a more asynchronous environment, but younger students will do better with predictable schedules. Examples might include following established class times and having daily announcements.

Teachers of younger students can create easy-to-follow HyperDocs that provide students with familiar visual cues for access information and tasks. Schedules for at-home learning should mirror familiar classroom routines, including tasks, groups, and even brain breaks.

Be creative in supporting teachers of physical education, music, art, and other subjects (e.g. online services for PE classes to share and track workouts).

Make sure these services follow your privacy policy. Leverage technologies you may not normally encourage in class, such as using a smartphone to take pictures of art assignments students have completed at home.

3. Prepare specific content and curriculum applications for remote access

Because we are experiencing a sudden and drastic change in the ways that we work, collaborate, and learn, some vendors are reducing previous access restrictions to their products

For instance, Google is now allowing all G Suite users to start a “Hangouts” session with up to 250 participants.  If you use these products, let your staff know about these new capabilities and increased capacity.

If you want students and staff to use familiar applications from their homes, be sure to verify whether or not each application limits access to IP addresses within a limited distance of the school. Be sure that your content is accessible on all platforms, as students may be using personal devices, school devices, smartphones, and tablets to connect.

You may also consider removing any time-based limitations to better fit diverse situations for different families. For instance, our reading application currently only allows students to complete quizzes from 8am-4pm; however, older students may be expected to care for younger siblings during the day and may not have time to complete all assignments during this timeframe.

You may need to confer with vendors regarding any specific licensing constraints on their product.  If a vendor is unwilling to help with a solution, ask yourself why you are continuing to pay for their service.

Finally, think outside the box! Many online curriculum services have components that are not used frequently with students because teachers have traditionally delivered the content in person. Support educators in utilizing these features by creating video tutorials so that they can enhance their lessons in new ways.

The coming weeks will be challenging for everyone. But there are deliberate steps that every IT team can take to provide the preparation and ongoing support that will allow teachers to teach and students to learn while practicing the social distancing needed to keep our communities safe.

Meet the team at Fremont County School District #1: Lander, WY

  • Technology Director
  • 25 years of experience as a technology director in mid-size Wyoming school districts (2,000 students or less).
  • Technology Assistant
  • 5 years with the Tech department
  • Instructional Facilitator
  • 20+ years teaching and facilitating experience working with students and staff at all grade levels and content areas

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