Welcome to the Learning Continuity Guidebook, this post is the eighth in a nine-part series. Click here to learn more about the guidebook and its contributors.
Like a well-rehearsed fire drill, everyone needs to know what to do when the remote learning alarm sounds.
- Districts need to hand out devices.
- Teachers need to create and share online assignments.
- Students need to submit work online.
- Parents need to know how to support and manage their children's time and access to online learning resources.
- Tech support should be waiting at the ready.
For the switch to work, you need a clear process where everyone knows which steps to take and when to take them.
In this post, we look to districts like Mountain Brook Schools where real and practice remote learning days have been in place since 2009. Here are the best practices districts have developed for initiating remote learning days.
Establish a process for handing out devices
Using the data you've gathered about students' device needs (as discussed in our Establish Equity & Access blog post), you'll need to establish a process for assigning and handing out the technology.
First, choose a delivery method. Some districts use a service or vendor to deliver devices to students' homes; others opt for students to pick up technology from schools or drop off points. Which method you choose will depend on available funds, family situations, inclement weather, government rules, etc.
You'll also need an inventory and current equipment checkout process for equipment.
Mountain Brook Schools took the drive-through approach to hand out devices and learning materials when schools closed this past spring. Here is the process they used:
- Before pick-up day, each device was tagged with a barcode and scanned so the district could track inventory and repairs. (Other districts have a laptop and barcode scanner on-site and complete this process during drive-through.)
- When families arrived, they received a preprinted checkout form that included the device name, fixed asset tag number, serial number, etc.
- Families also signed an agreement listing expectations for care and repairs. Both the checkout form and agreement are kept on file until students return the equipment.
Some suggested guidelines for your form include
- a reference to your district's responsible use policy,
- any fiscal responsibilities associated with the checkout,
- data privacy issues,
- expected care of the device,
- and a number for technical support.
If you choose a drive-thru approach, schedule carefully to avoid traffic backups. Vestavia Hills Schools used designated pick-up times by grade level and followed the same procedure for returns. They also used this time to provide paper materials, supplies, and a quick chat with masked teachers.
Use standard tools for instruction and communication
During remote learning, students and teachers need to communicate to stay engaged and connected. Remembering that families often have multiple students, districts should establish consistent and age-appropriate communication tools. If teachers consistently use the same tools for conferencing, posting lessons, submitting work, etc. you will minimize confusion and help students learn independently.
Keith Price, CTO for Vestavia Hills Schools, says his district created a standard PDF template called "Week at a Glance" and asked all K-12 teachers to use that template to send out the week's assignments each Monday. Teachers customized their lessons with links to resources and directions for posting work, but students and families still had the consistency of a standard approach to lesson delivery.
A consistent approach to both assignments and the technology used also eases the transition to remote learning, especially if you keep technology simple for younger students and add tools as grade levels (and technology skills) increase. Districts could group grades, for example, K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, and have each group use standard technology and approaches to lesson delivery.
Mountain Brook Schools also uses a single sign-on solution, so students don't have to remember several passwords. One login gives students access to all of the assigned resources as well as a direct link to their Google Drive. Staff can also log in and access their "home directory" on the district's servers to access curriculum-based materials created while on-site.
Build a sense of community
Districts should also encourage teachers to create learning environments that are both student-centered and develop a sense of community since students and teachers aren't physically together. Ray Bendici, of Tech & Learning, shares helpful advice for this in a recent article, 5 Steps to Design Instruction for Blended Learning Environments.
Offer extensive tech support
Even if your district has plenty of experience with remote learning, technology issues will pop up. It's easy for support teams to get swamped with requests around lost power cords, poor Wi-Fi connections, and user errors. To avoid a backlog, clear, concise support for both staff and parents is essential.
Along with a designated area for finding FAQ's, and support documents, districts can make accessing the tech support group easier by developing a comprehensive routing system.
- Create a group email account distributed to multiple people. With this approach, parents and students need only remember one generic email address. Coordinate and communicate within the staff group to ensure everyone knows who answers what and on what days.
- List the available times for service, equipment drop-offs, etc. to avoid frustration and confusion.
- Schedule support staff during days and evenings to accommodate parent schedules.
Districts like Brighton Central Schools made getting support easier with online forms for students to report problems with devices.
Township High School District 214 provides families with detailed guidelines for remote instruction, including a daily schedule for remote learning classes, staff office hours, PD times, and tech support email addresses.
Look to experienced districts
Remote learning may be new to many, but districts such as Gwinnett County Public School, Neenah Joint School District, and Fulton County Schools have years of experience. You don't have to go it alone, visit their websites, and follow them on social media to garner some of their knowledge and advice.
Join us next week for our final post in the Learning Continuity Guidebook series, where education leaders outline how to 'Maintain & Improve Your Learning Continuity Plan'. Follow us on social media to stay up-to-date with new entries in this series, or subscribe using the form below.
As we continue through the series, we’ll share resources and best practices from trailblazers and districts leading the way. Here are some that stand out for their vision, expertise, and usefulness.
Districts to follow
Leaders to learn from
- Dr. Aaron Spence, Superintendent, Virginia Beach City Public Schools
- Sophia Mendoza, Director, Instructional Technology Initiative, Los Angeles Unified School District
- Dr. Donna Wright, Director of Schools, Wilson County Schools
Practical tools and news you can use