Topic Sheet: Six K12 Remote Learning Stories You May Have Missed

Six story themes about remote learning pulled from a conversation with a district systems engineer, a sixth-grade teacher, and a 30-year edtech vet

A few weeks ago, we pulled three technology leaders together in a Pando Press Panel - one teacher, one district IT leader and one edtech executive. If you missed the discussion or have not had time to review it, here are six story ideas our guests unearthed that may interest you. 

For use below, the panel speakers were: 

  • Erica Smith, 6th grade teacher at Ready Springs School (CA) 

  • Monte McCubbin, systems engineer for Simi Valley Unified School District (CA)

  • Al Kingsley, CEO of NetSupport, UK school leader and co-host of NetSupport Radio



Distance Education Highlights Need to Teach and Support Parents Too

The digital divide is not just about access; it’s about technology familiarity too. In many cases, it’s the parents who need the training. 

Monte McCubbin, Simi Valley USD: (08:48)
One big shift in this distance learning has been we're not just supporting students, but we're supporting parents, which a lot of times aren't even as knowledgeable with our Google tools as the kids are because the kids have been sitting in the classroom using them before this pandemic hit.

Erica Smith: (15:33)
One thing that we've found as we've made this giant leap into the future here in pandemic world, is that developmentally not all students are ready for that step, whether it's necessary or not in their education. And so having those learning management systems has really been a way to bring them along with us because they might not be ready to manage their own schedule or to look at their email and just kind of know what's going on.

So we need to have it really structured for them… especially the parents, they really need that too. And so another learning management system that our district has recently purchased is Schoology, which really strives to relate more with family life and at home. So that there's a single platform that unifies all of their children across their different campuses so that a parent can go on and find all the information they need for first child, second child, third child, no matter what grade or school they're in.


Remote Learning Has Made On-Task a Top Challenge

Using connective technology at home has made keeping students engaged and on-task a key challenge of remote teaching. Now, simply being “in” class may not mean much at all. 

Monte McCubbin, Simi Valley USD: (17:42)
We were looking for a tool to help a teacher to keep their kids on task because you're no longer just up at a whiteboard. You now have 30 or however many so students in your classroom, they're all on their Chromebook or laptop, whatever they have, in our case it's Chromebook. And they're supposed to be on whatever tool, say it's a website for math or science or whatever the website tool is that you're choosing to use.

Monte McCubbin, Simi Valley USD: (18:09)
Or they're supposed to be doing a research assignment for history, whatever it is. Them staying on task is near impossible. As a teacher starts to walk towards a certain section of the classroom, they very quickly close that tab, shift off that tab. They're not stupid. They know exactly what they're doing. So as the teacher's walking around, they're switching back and forth between Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, whatever they're doing, it's not their homework. It's not their classwork, it's not schoolwork.

Monte McCubbin, Simi Valley USD: (18:38)
And so now the teacher can see with these tools, they can see the whole class. You have a pane of glass that gives you a thumbnail of every student in your class. And not only do you see what they're doing, but you can use certain tools like you want the whole class to go to a certain website. Traditionally you'd write it on the whiteboard or on your projector screen or whatever. And you tell all the kids to go there and you spend five minutes waiting for all the kids to properly key in the URL.


Remote Teaching Accelerates Need for Professional Confidence

Mastering teaching technology isn’t entirely about knowledge, it’s about confidence. If teachers are not confident in what they’re doing, the tools they use, they won’t use them. That can waste valuable time and money. 

Al Kingsley, NetSupport: (25:36)
So one has definitely been about less is more. We've expected so much from the teaching profession and the acquisition of so many new tools, sometimes skills, but often needing to vary the amount of tools that actually what we really need to always focus on is that kind of how do you build confidence. You want solutions that are easy to learn, easy to use. And most importantly of all, we've seen a vast range of solutions that if teachers don't have confidence in a tool, the simple answer is it's not going to be embedded and they won't use it for long, not when you've got 30 engaging young people who want that kind of interaction.

Al Kingsley, NetSupport: (26:14)
But confidence comes in different ways because actually that confidence then builds to having a better oversight of what young people are doing so that you can, as Erica was alluding to you can intervene and support children one-to-one. We've also seen feedback of late, one of the concerns and thinking particularly about the classroom. Cloud narrative is you have a Zoom call or a Teams call, and you've got your young people engaging with the teacher.


Four Reasons a “Cloud” Solution May Not Always Work for Remote Learning

Having teaching and learning technologies on a” cloud” system makes sense for some schools and districts, but not for all of them. Here are four reasons some districts may want to explore non-cloud options. 

Traffic Management 

Monte McCubbin, Simi Valley USD: (30:29)
So we do have it on premise, for instance, for NetSupport. One of the reasons why we like having that support on premise is because we don't want 17,000 devices traversing our private network to the public cloud, to come all the way back. We feel like that's a lot of inefficiencies in traffic flow that don't need to leave our network. Don't need to go through our firewall.

Loss of Control of Resources, Priority  

Monte McCubbin, Simi Valley USD: (31:34)
There's a couple of different things that we think of when we think of cloud solutions. One is the resources because most providers, all they're going to do is they're going to sub it out to like Amazon, AWS. They're going to want to pay for the cheapest resources possible. Because you pay per resource and to increase their margin, they're going to pay for the least resource, but try and deliver a good product.

So when you're doing a cloud solution, you lose control of your resources. You lose control of your patch control because whoever you're hosted with say, you go with the vendor of the product that you're using, they're going to patch it on their schedule. It's not patched on your schedule, you're at their mercy, at their patch schedule.

Laws About Data May Add Cost

Monte McCubbin, Simi Valley USD: (32:25)
Also a lot of cloud solutions. They're going to put as Al said, your data is throughout multiple data centers. There's good and bad to that. One thing with student data, at least in California, it has to stay in California. When you're looking at AWS or you're looking at Google or you're looking at Microsoft. If you look at anybody, they're going to usually put it somewhere outside of California. Why? Because it's cheaper. It's expensive to have data in California. The data centers that are much cheaper are going to be in other States.

So as soon as you put in that clause in your contract, okay, I'm going to go with your cloud solution, but all of our data needs to stay in California. All of a sudden they pause and they're like, "Oh, well, wait a second. It's going to cost you 15% more than the quote price." So there's a lot of different factors to take in consideration when you go cloud. You're also a bigger target. You have to have the resources to have a good firewall and a good administrator if you have it on premise, because it's your problem, it's your responsibility to protect it.

Increased Target

Monte McCubbin, Simi Valley USD: (33:51)
When you're on a cloud solution, say we're on AWS or whatever we're using is hosted on AWS. We're hosted there, 100 other people are hosted there. AWS itself is a big target because it's a bigger payoff. So in a sense, when you go to cloud, you're a bigger bullseye. That was one of our big systems that we purposely (against my preference), we moved it from on-premise to cloud and the whole argument was it was going to be safer.

We moved it. One month after we moved it, we got a notice that they were hacked.

To Cloud or Not to Cloud?

How schools and teachers host and deliver teaching tools matters and the answer is not a simple one. 

Al Kingsley, NetSupport: (37:06)
if somebody said to me, well, where do these things best not fit, then certainly when you start thinking about school finance, HR, and certain systems, you think, well, they're intrinsically operational within the entity. And I can't see any reason why I need them externally. So why would I take that extra leap? Now, unless there's a fiscal reason that kind of makes sense. Once you go above that, I don't think any of us would argue that when it comes to sharing lesson resources between the teaching staff, that having that accessible 24/7 from wherever staff are, there's some real time-savings and some benefits.


Has Remote Instruction Changed PD?

The tools teachers are using and learning have changed the way some teachers themselves are learning. Peer to peer and shorter, more focused PD is emerging. 

Erica Smith: (47:05)

One thing that our school district learned kind of early on this year and then ran with it was that different teachers need different types of information. Some teachers are knowledgeable about a certain product, and that's great. If we had a teacher that was able to do that, then they would pay them extra to have a meeting, teach people how to use it. What they found was that they needed sort of an à la carte training solution to so many of these things.

What do you want, what do you need? How can we help you get that research? Rather than we're going to have a giant day dedicated to a single long meeting is completely unproductive for you if you know what's going on already. I moved away from that, which is really happy news for all of us. So it's funny that even our cloud training is now coming via the cloud in a lot of ways.


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