August 26, 2020 Recap- "Educational Technology Readiness"

Article | 09.03.2020

By Carl Baxmeyer, Manager, Planning, Wightman
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The August 26, 2020 Wednesdays With Wightman Town Hall focused on the MI Safe Schools Roadmap. While in-person instruction is permitted, some districts will opt for continuing with remote instruction or a hybrid of in-person and remote learning. Technology will play a significant role in delivering education. Therefore, with the start of the new school year approaching, this meeting was timely with a focus on "Educational Technology Readiness."

George Kacan, Regional Director of Architecture and Education Sector Leader, facilitated the session and panel discussion. The panel included Mr. Scott Brune, President and CEO of Wright & Hunter, a consulting firm specializing in educational technology and security for Pk-12 School Districts. Dr. John Monberg, a Professor, Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures, Michigan State University who researches methods to explore user behavior & the social impacts of new communication technologies. Dr. Thomas Langdon, a part-time Superintendent for Walkerville Schools and an educational consultant for Wightman, provided an educator's perspective to the panel discussion.

Dr. Monberg presented the guiding principals he has noted for remote instruction.  

  • Shared Common Space – the teacher needs to establish an emotional connection with and between the students. It is critical that each student feels they are part of a group and not isolated.
  • Organized Materials for Students – It is vital that shared materials are readily available and that they are labeled clearly and consistently. Having to hunt for content is an easy way to disengage students.
  • Equity, Feeling Welcomed – While access to technology can be a barrier to remote instruction, other obstacles can and do exist. Does the student have a quiet study space? Do they know what questions to ask? Do they feel welcomed in the group through exposure to readings, videos, and other resources that have been prepared by a diversity of individuals?
  • Low Stakes Activities – having students engage in tasks that require their active participation, without the pressure of competition, will increase involvement and the effectiveness of remote instruction.
  • Appropriate Use Video – preparing quality video presentations requires much more effort than preparing lecture notes. However, the key is a "quality" video presentation, visually and audibly, if education is to be effectively delivered. Poor presentations lead to immediate disengagement. Finally, finding the balance between an active, discussion filled session and video or reading time is essential for success.

Mr. Scott Brune's presentation began with a comparison between education in March, as we entered the pandemic and now, as preparations continue for a return to school in September.


MARCH

  • No in-person instruction
  • Staff's best effort at remote learning
  • Minimal professional development
  • Modifying weekly lesson plans
  • Simple video conferencing tools
  • Students, parents, & staff struggled
  • Distribution of computing devices
  • Technical support for remote users
  • Student's best efforts
  • Pass or fail

SEPTEMBER

  • In-Person Instruction (requires safety protocols)
  • Staff's best efforts to prepare for the unknown
  • In-Person, Remote, or Blended Learning
  • Virtual Learning – self-paced
  • Ongoing professional development
  • Better online collaborative learning platforms & lessons
  • Student monitoring for participation & progress
  • Distribution of computing devices
  • Technical support for remote users
  • Assessments and Grading


Scott stressed the need for districts to be ready for quick changes to respond to a shift in the situation. While districts are planning for a variety of in-person, remote, or blended learning, with technology involved with each, circumstances may require an immediate shift away from in-person learning.

Another difference heading into the new school year is the requirement to return to assessments and grading. That will demand additional support for remote users.

Regardless of the teaching modality, all have common goals. There is the goal of monitoring student participation and progress. The need to support individual learning styles while also engaging students and encouraging group interaction is common to in-person, hybrid, and remote learning. Teachers require ongoing professional development, and users need technical support.

Scott presented the needs of both the district and the student. To continue or enhance the ability of a district to provide remote learning, as well as in-person instruction requires:


What does the District Need?  

HARDWARE

  • Firewall
  • Web content filtering
  • Virtual Private Network
  • Wireless network infrastructure
  • Computing devices
  • Asset tags, inventory, sign-out, student responsibilities, damage costs

SUPPORT

  • Ongoing professional development
  • Remote technical support
  • Review current technology staffing levels
  • Remote access and control tools for distance computing devices


What does the Student Need at Home?

  • High-Speed Internet
    • 25Mbps minimum, 100 Mbps good speed
    • Hot Spots
  • Computing Devices
    • Chromebooks popular choice, good price point
    • 8 to 16+ week backlogs from all vendors
    • Consider student-owned devices
    • Communications & support for students & parents

He also noted the responsibilities of the parents to support their students during in-home instruction.  Technical assistance must be available for the student. Parents are encouraged to ensure that their students maintain and charge their devices. They should work with the teacher to support and monitor student progress.

Recognizing the need for districts to fund technology improvements and provide support for teachers and students, Scott presented an overview of some potential sources of funding and resources. While specific to Michigan, he stressed that other states also assist school districts. A detailed list developed by Scott can be found on this resource page.


Our next meeting, on September 16, will focus on "Food Service in a Pandemic World."

To attend the next town hall, sign up here.

Here is a recording of the session.