When Meriden Public Schools in central Connecticut made a quick switch to remote learning during the COVID-19 school shutdowns, they didn't hit the same roadblocks that left many other districts reeling. Instead, Superintendent Dr. Mark Benigni says the move went smoothly. He attributes a considerable part of that success to the district already having digital content, devices and a single sign-on (SSO) platform.
We knew we would be able to continue even if we weren't in our school buildings.
"A lot of the things that we had in place—SSO being one of them—laid the foundation for remote learning. We knew we would be able to continue even if we weren't in our school buildings," explains Benigni.
How SSO made remote learning easier
Susan Moore, the district's Supervisor of Blended Learning, says ClassLink’s SSO platform was already the place where all students and teachers went to access digital apps and content. Moore and her colleagues didn't have to worry about whether students and staff would forget numerous usernames and passwords or struggle to find the right URL and miss out on learning.
"Instead of having to send out pages and pages of instructions on where to find apps and content, we basically said "log in to ClassLink," and everyone knew where to go and what to do," explains Benigni.
Using ClassLink's My Files feature, teachers could access files on their desktops and in Google Drive or other cloud-based storage. This saved teachers time and frustration during a busy and stressful period. Without ClassLink, Benigni imagines the quick switch to remote learning would have been chaotic.
"Our students were struggling with not coming to school every day, embracing distance learning and not seeing their teacher every day. The last thing staff, students and families needed was to struggle with a list of multiple passwords and figuring out how to get from one app to the next or how to engage with digital content providers," he explains.
"As a single sign-on provider, ClassLink helped us avoid a lot of remote learning issues," adds Benigni. "This pandemic showed us the importance of going with a single sign-on model and our partnership with ClassLink."
Vetted, reliable tools kept learning on track
Amid school shutdowns, many technology companies offered free versions of resources, a gesture Moore recognizes as generous. However, she says an influx of new tools could also create a lot of confusion around which tools teachers and students should use.
With ClassLink, Moore says students and teachers knew where to access district-vetted programs proven to help students meet their educational outcomes. That kept everyone focused.
"Putting those programs on their splash page by grade level and even by class helped students and teachers access the most useful programs. It also kept the number of programs available manageable," she explains.
Analytics helped track engagement and continued learning
With ClassLink Analytics, Moore and Benigni both say they could quickly assess whether staff and students stayed connected with the district and continued to log in to digital programs or if they needed additional support.
"Our ClassLink Analytics show us both the unique logins and the total logins so we can monitor who's logging in and how often," explains Moore. "We were averaging about 700 staff member logins a day, which is almost 100 percent of our staff. And we saw about 4,000 unique logins of our students every day. We are very pleased with those numbers."
During a presentation about the district's remote learning efforts to the Board of Education, Moore used ClassLink Analytics to outline their success. "I didn't have to do a lot of data mining. I used the snipping tool and took a picture of some of the graphs available through ClassLink. I showed that even in shutdown when you compare the logins from last year to this year, there really hasn't been that heavy drop off in engagement that we were concerned we might see with distance learning."
For Benigni, it was critically important that the shutdown wasn't a review period and that learning would continue. He says the district used ClassLink Analytics to share data comparing how often students logged in to ClassLink during traditional learning versus distance learning. They also compared which programs were used most often before the pandemic and how often they were used during remote learning. "I'm happy to report that even throughout distance learning, we have still seen a steady flow of logins to ClassLink and specific programs."
"In one neat framework, we were able to share with the community, with our board of education, with our staff that it was working," says Benigni. "It might not be perfect, but it was working, and our students were engaging in learning new content throughout the process."
For Benigni, it was critically important that the shutdown wasn't a review period and that learning would continue.
Even as schools shut down and the district added programs to accommodate remote learning, Moore was relieved she could still use ClassLink Roster Server for remote rostering—generating student and teacher accounts for apps and programs. That helped her ensure everyone could access the applications they needed.
Moore, whose job includes a significant amount of rostering, says that was a major time-saver since before she started using Roster Server, rostering was complicated and time-consuming. "Literally account creation would take me hours and hours of downloading CSV files and catenating information. Now, formatting takes a matter of minutes."
Quick, clear communication
Moore says ClassLink was also a robust communication tool for remote learning where the district could post notices and teachers could post messages for students. During the spring, the district used ClassLink to share a remote learning survey with students, staff and parents. Within one day, the link had 1200 views.
A superintendent's critical takeaways from remote learning
Dr. Benigni says if there's one positive takeaway from this experience, it's that education has moved forward because schools needed to make significant changes quickly.
"Digital content is a necessity; devices are a necessity; single sign-on is a necessity. These aren't going to be things that we argue or discuss at length anymore. These are going to be the new norms of education in America." He adds, "Don't underestimate the importance of having a single sign-on vehicle like ClassLink for remote or in-class learning—it's essential."