One Schoolhouse's May 13, 2020, Academic Leaders Webinar on the technology needed to deliver a great hybrid learning experience with Brad Rathgeber, Head of School, and Sarah Hanawald, Assistant Head of School for Professional Development.
Brad: Today's webinar is a little bit different than we've done in the past in that it will just be Sarah and I talking about technology. We understand that at this point, a lot of schools are wondering if the technology that they currently have is going to be as good as it needs to be to get us into the next school year. Schools are considering whether their learning management systems are effective and comprehensive enough and whether they have enough technology in order to develop a significantly good hybrid learning program going into next year. That's gonna be the focus of today. Sarah and I both happen to be former technology directors and hope to be able to share some of that experience with you and share some of our thoughts from the One Schoolhouse perspective. Sarah, anything else to add here as we go into this?
Sarah: No, I'm really looking forward to this because I love talking about educational technology. This is a fun one.
Brad: Sarah, I think you might have a first question for me on this topic, though.
Sarah: All right, so, Brad, what's essential with technology?
Brad: That's a good question. So what's essential when you're creating a great hybrid learning environment is to make sure that you have a highly functional and comprehensive learning management system, and to make sure that as much learning as possible is done within that learning management system. Sarah why don’t you define what a learning management system is? You probably have a better definition than I do.
Sarah: So I've been looking at some definitions with learning management systems. The learning management system is cloud based software that manages that business of school at a bare minimum. And a robust learning management system is a place where teachers and students live in the online world to do all of what can happen in a classroom.That means turn in assignments, collaborate, communicate all of those values that we hold and independent schools. So, again, it's got to be cloud based. It's got to incorporate all the administrative functions of the school classroom, but also then that extra layer is the collaboration communication teacher created materials, videos, all of those pieces.
Brad: Yes. And so, Sarah, one thing that I know that folks are often surprised to find out is that at One Schoolhouse we require that almost all of our learning is done within the learning management system. That is that we don't let teachers go out and create a whole bunch of usernames and passwords for kids in other systems beyond the learning management system program.The reason for that is that we want to make sure that there is as little friction as possible in the learning experience for students. We know that when we send kids out to other places on the Web in order to engage in learning, it becomes about learning the technology rather than the learning we want them to be doing in the class. So we want to think really carefully about the types of technology that we allow teachers to use and go to and send kids to outside.
We go to kind of the extreme on this end in that any teacher that wants to add something into their class, that is outside of the learning management system, has to be approved by our assistant head of school Corinne Dedini.. And I will tell you that Corinne very rarely approves anything to happen outside of that learning management system. We know, though, that this is a huge challenge for schools this spring because they've tried to experiment in this weird space that we’re all in.
And so, Sarah, I'm going to ask you, do you see this as kind of a big challenge for schools right now to help people rein this back into next school year?
Sarah: OK, you just stole a lot of my phrases that I like to say and I like to say it with love. Right, but it is time to rein it in. And I think one of the ways that schools can think about this is to build a profile of a student or maybe a profile for a family is more accurate, and take a look at what everybody in that family is being asked to manage in terms of technology. And so sometimes in school, we talk about personalized learning for students where we try to find that right match, but sometimes it's about personalized teaching. And so teachers find a really cool tool, they sign everybody up, and they send all the kids to the website to login. That works when you're in person and you can peer over a child and say “oh, no, no you click here and you needed to do this.” But it doesn't work when tech support is at home and maybe it's brother, sister, mom, dad, caregiver during the day. So we've created what you like to call friction. That's a phrase that I think really aptly describes what happens. And you get emails from parents who say, I'm ready to throw the Chromebook out of the window. So that's fair, when we look at hyper learning, we say, OK, we've got to rein it in. Pick a few tools that we're going to use ubiquitously, and we're going to be able to support all of our learners in using those tools.
Brad: It's a great point, Sarah. I know another question that you've been getting from schools and starting to field from schools is should we be changing our learning management system at this point? Given what we've seen this spring, you know, we're worried that our living management system might not be as comprehensive as it needs to be, etc. should we consider changing at this point? I know that often, I'd just like to preface this by saying before I turn it over to you, that often this is like a two year project for a school to take on if they're thinking about changing the learning management system, so we certainly want to go into that with some type of care.
Sarah: Right. So I'm going to say that the answer to that question is probably not. And there's a big caveat that I'm going to put up again later, but changing a learning management system is like moving, right? You do not undertake that lightly and spontaneously unless you're only responsible for yourself and you can get all of your possessions in the back of a pickup truck.
Changing learning management systems is a very big deal. And the first thing that a school that thinks “oh, gosh, I think we're gonna need to change” should do is go back and look at does everybody really know how to use the learning management system? Are there features that we never turned on because when we originally implemented, we thought we'll never use that or we don't need that, that you now need to turn on and start training.
Sometimes it's really a case of I'm going to go back into my moving strategy. Maybe you just need a little addition or call somebody in to rethink your space and make that learning management system work for you. Even if you're looking at it, you're thinking, “OK, you know what? It really is time to change, maybe this isn't the year to do it.” Maybe you can make it work for you now and you know that in a year you're going to start that process because that is a major technology initiative and you're asking a lot of folks.
However, maybe you don't have a learning management system. Maybe you have three or four on campus and that profile that you build up a family at your school, you realize “oh, my gosh, kids are being asked to check into different learning management systems.” They don't know where stuff is, parents don't know where stuff is, and we're creating a lot of tension because you're visible now and you're transparent in a way that you weren't before. You know, a parent dropping into a child's classroom is usually kind of a big deal on a special occasion. Now, you've got parents looking at children's classrooms all day, every day. So that's different.
So maybe you have to narrow down to one. Normally, I'd say you'd spend the year kind of collecting information and then maybe a year doing a side by side rollout. You're going to have to do it fast. And that's going to be a lot of work. The only advantage, I think, of doing it fast in this time is that at least you're going to have some buy in. If you don't have one, everybody on campus is probably going to be all in on.
Brad: It's a really complicated challenge to think about. Again, it's the type of decision that typically schools would take a year or two to make. But as with so many things that were triggered this spring, we're doing these things much more on the fly than with the type of intentionality that we would typically do. So a couple of questions have come in. One of the questions is, do we use extensions with canvas at One Schoolhouse or do you only use the canvas functions? We primarily just use the canvas functions almost almost exclusively, we use the canvas functions. We do add on a couple of extensions beyond that. But very, very little.
Sarah: I want to ask you a question about that, because there are a couple of tools that integrate well with canvas at One Schoolhouse that folks really like. And I don't want to get too much into recommending a specific tool, but I think the idea there is a functionality that you need and something that comes to mind is maybe Flipgrid or something like that.
Brad: Yeah. Flipgrid, it's an interesting one because it can be difficult to manage, which is why we've actually purchased a canvas add on that's built by Canvas called Studio. For any schools that are using Canvas, we suggest that you add on the Studio functionality because the video capabilities beyond that and discussion within videos is significantly better. So again, we'd like to stay within the learning management system, which is why we're using the Studio functionality instead of something like Flipgrid.
Sarah: Great. Thank you.
Brad: Melissa asks, Do you anticipate that schools will need to install cameras in classrooms to manage hybrid learning with some students at home and some students at school next year? So I'm going to take the 30,000 foot view on this one, and then Sarah you might want to drill down to the specific question.
So the 30,000 foot view on this is that we think that this is but one of about 15 different scenarios that you should be planning for this fall. We don't know what this fall is going to look like. We don't know whether we’ll be on campus at all, we don't know if we're going to be a campus fully. I think that it is reasonable to think that we may have situations where some students are on campus and some students are not on campus. So therefore, what we're suggesting to schools overall, Melissa, is to think about designing for a fully online experience that can both synchronous and asynchronous components to it. Therefore, if you are in a lucky position of having some students on campus this fall, you may be able to have some of those synchronous times with some kids in the classroom and some kids online, in which case a camera may be helpful. However, this doesn't have to be, from my perspective, a super high tech thing.In fact, it could be a super low tech thing of a computer setup on a desk within the classroom. Sarah, you might have a little different take on that, though.
Sarah: So there's a phrase that I have been dying to work in a conversation and nobody will let me do it, so now I've got the chance to do it and that's telepresence robotics. I've done a little research into telepresence robotics due in the last couple of months, and I even interviewed an engineer at a company who is doing that. And so here's the thing. It is very unrealistic to expect a child who is at home to watch school happen when he or she is not a participant in the classroom. And so that, I think, is the challenge of setting everything up with mobility. And you've got cameras everywhere, so you think, ok, we're really broadcasting this experience. Well, that's not the same thing as being in school. Telepresence robotics is kind of interesting because the price point for these are getting into where a family could conceivably buy one hand it to you and say, here, this is how my child is coming to school. This year you're going to put this robot in every one of his or her classes. They've advanced a long way. Kids can control them from an app and they can swivel so they can participate in a small group, but what the engineer said is it works well for a couple of weeks for a kid who's got, you know, maybe a broken leg. And he said it's really not how people go to school for an extended period of time.
Brad: I think it's kind of one of those things that you might want to have your technology department at your schools think about. I wouldn't suggest acting on that, though, right now, would you, Sarah?
Sarah: No. And I think it's something that I'd be very aware of so that when somebody buys, because really some of them you can find now even use on eBay for under a couple of thousand dollars, so you want to be prepared to have that conversation if if somebody shows up at school with one, and says, hey, here it is.
Brad: Yeah, that jives with my experience. I remember a number of years ago we had a student who had to be in a cancer center for a number of years. This was probably 10 years ago. And then at that point, we set up a Microsoft 360 camera in the classroom to act as virtual Zoe so that Zoe could tune in whenever she had the opportunity to from the cancer center. And it served her well to have some type of functionality with her classmates.But it was certainly not a replacement for the entire learning experience, which is exactly why I think we're suggesting to schools to plan for next year to be online so that it’ll allow easier toggling than just relying upon some cameras potentially in a classroom.
OK, so there's a couple questions in here and Sarah I’m gonna throw these to you about learning management system recommendations for younger students, either a K-8 or pre-K- 1. And there's a note in here from Becky that they're currently using Seesaw and teachers are overwhelmed with notifications and finding assignments. However, students in these grades can't read independently.
Sarah: Absolutely, and this is one, too, if you've got a tech person who you know and love or if you're a tech person here, I would really recommend suggesting that they make sure that they are connected to the ATLIS community, which is the Association of Technology Leaders and Independent Schools, and on the ISCDL Listserv, because some of these conversations have been going on. I'm going to stay away from recommending a specific LMS because I don't know your school well enough to recommend a LMS as there are qualified folks if it's overwhelming to select one. You can hire someone to help you write an RFP and evaluate the masses. And there are some folks who I think are keen to do that quickly for schools who need to do that, but I have seen conversations about See-Saw and I know that that's one where configuration may matter quite a bit. So if you're looking at younger students who can't read and you want something that teachers are not overwhelmed by, configuration and training may be your best friend there before you say ok this tool isn't working. I know the other thing that folks like to do is have sort of the one LMS to rule them all, which we also recommend. I do get that, especially if you go down to non-readers and students who are needing, you know, really, really simple interfaces, there may be something that you do else that you do with those primary students. Then you're realistically engaging their parents as your partners in managing that LMS for that child.
Brad: Yes, Sarah, can I zoom out for a second, too, and just just note to everybody something that I hope takes a little bit of pressure off of this type of conversation with our youngest learners in our schools. Let's remember that we're totally in the wild west of lower school learning online right now. This was not a topic of research or study, especially in the independent school community, before eight or nine weeks ago. So there are no experts in lower school learning online. Anybody who says that they're an expert in lower school learning online, I would really question that right now. And there are no real best practices because all of these things are emerging practice right now. So we're learning tremendously from each other in sessions like this and sessions like our academic leaders meet ups that we have on Thursday afternoons, to start to figure out what's working really well in that space.
I totally agree with you, Sarah, that we highly suggest that the school has one LMS to rule them all and that the exception to that rule is probably your pre-K through 2 learners who are still learning to read.
Jeannie has a great question about students in China. Do you have any tech suggestions for schools that may be stuck in China in the fall? So much is blocked, we're trying to figure out what to do.
Jeannie, absolutely, this is a huge challenge for schools that are expecting to have students in China. As I think you know, we've had a number of students who are in China learning from us at One Schoolhouse online for a few years, especially over the summertime. And we find that, yes, there are certain things that work OK, there are certain things that don't work, and there are many things that start to work if you have students using VPNs in order to connect to servers outside of China. I would warn you, though, that that is not something that you should ever officially suggest to students to do.
Google products generally do not work beyond the Chinese firewall. And so when you're talking about things like Google Classroom or Google Docs or YouTube videos or things like that, it becomes a real challenge to connect with kids in China. That is one of the reasons that we use Canvas as a learning management system, and it may be a reason to think about changing a learning management system.
You heard Sarah say at the beginning, very rarely would you think about changing a learning management system at this point. One of the reasons to rethink what learning management system you're using.
Sarah: Brad, there's a question here that I want to ask you about, and it's about the transferability of skills, instructional skills. So if somebody has learned how to use one LMS or they've been looking at course design in LMSas how easily does that transfer to a distant, different system, assuming you're going from a fully capable system to another fully capable system?
Brad: Often that transfer is fairly easy. I'm seeing this question too, from Linda “we're sending a cohort to the academic leader session for hybrid learning, we use blackboard on campus. The tech skills and instructional design skills will be easily transferable, correct?” The answer is yes and no in that we're not going to be teaching any tech skills specifically within that academic leaders session for hybrid learning. We're gonna be talking much more about pedagogy and design. Absolutely, that transfers over.
Joe asked, can you speak directly to technology applicable in math classes? This is our most challenging area for assessing and working with students. I totally get it, Joe. That is a challenging area to be assessing and working with with students. This is one of the reasons, again, that you're going to want to have a fully capable learning management system that integrates things like math symbols pretty easily.
There are a number of LMS’ that don't do that particularly well, and there are some that do it a little bit better than others. That said, we also find that a lot of math is going to have to be written out and then have students upload a PDF so that it can be easily graded by their teachers. Again, some learning management systems have the ability for teachers to more easily edit and mark up PDFs than others. Some even go to the level of a way that if a student uploads a PDF, a teacher can click on a particular portion of a screen and put a comment in there via voice or video so that the student can hear the teacher talking about it there. It's one of the things that you'd want to consider and when thinking about your learning management system. Sarah, do you want to answer that?
Sarah: Well, the piece that I'd like to add to that is screen casting is a math teachers friend. And I think one of the things that students can do that is really helpful and math teachers can get excited about is talk through their problem solving skills. And then you can really hear what a student is thinking when they turn in that screen cast. That can be really helpful in clearing out misconceptions, or just really having a student demonstrate their understanding in a way that the assessment itself, if it includes that element, the assessment becomes a learning process, because so often when students hear what they say, then they know what they think and then they may self correct. So it can be a really valuable tool in the math teachers toolbox.
Brad: Thanks Sarah, that's a great point. Jennifer S. says that we use Canvas as well and we have a few LTI integrated apps. Have you explored using the capabilities of Zoom integration embedded in Canvas? We have not, although I would imagine that that would be something that we would look into at some point soon. There are a number of different video tools that you can embed into campus truly easily. Zoom we understand this one, although we don't have any particular experience with that.
We'd caution schools to think very carefully about LTI integration within learning management systems and instead think about making sure that their teachers are fully trained up within the standard functionality of that LMS. We find that there are a lot of schools that will have a whole bunch of tools that may be integrated into their LMS through LTI connections, et cetera, that have a teacher or two using that LTI tool and then many of their teachers not using that and many of their teachers still not knowing the baseline effectiveness of their systems. So, Sarah, my recommendation is to really train up your teachers in the baseline expectations and make sure that they're real experts at what the baseline of what that LMS can do. Sarah, anything to add on that?
Sarah: Well, I would just add, I have a saying that I use a lot which is that free is not a feature. But I think the term included, if you have done a big investment into something, looking at the tools that are included in that purchase before you move on to looking for other tools is wise.
Brad: Great. Becky asked a question about summertime P.D. for teachers, she notes that our teachers will be starting for the summer in a couple of weeks. Do you have any suggestions for a PD model or course for pre-K through fourth grade teachers that they can take over the summer? Would you make this strictly voluntary? Would you incentivize it?
So let me talk big picture and then we'll talk lower school. So we know that many, many schools are requiring their faculty to do some work over the summer. We also know that some schools are incentivizing that work and some schools are not incentivizing that work. A lot of that depends upon the contract that they have created with their faculty and the expectations that they have previously set with their faculty for summer time. We know, for example, that some schools have their faculty on 12 month contracts. Some schools have them on 10 month contracts. So schools are thinking about how they might be using professional days differently as well.
We also know, and I think it's fair to say that faculty on the whole right now are pretty burned out from the spring. This has been a crazy, crazy spring for faculty. And the first thing we should do is congratulate any teacher for just making it through the wackiness of the spring and what we've asked them to do. We'd also encourage schools give folks a pause before jumping right into professional development this summer. We know that we're used to having a normal cadence in schools of ending the school year and then doing some PD before faculty go away and then at faculty go away and come back to some more PD and the start of the school year.
Our suggestion is give them time off right at the beginning of the summer and give them some time to recuperate. Maybe make the trade with them instead of doing this during their typical faculty week at the end of the year. We're going to ask you to do this instead.
Now, lower school, as I said a second ago, is the absolute wild west right now. There's emerging practice that's coming about. But there's not real expertise in that area. We've been very clear at One Schoolhouse that the guidance that we've been offering is really for middle school and high school faculty members. Our hope is that we can develop some based on some of these practices for later in the summer for lower school teachers.
Sarah: Yeah, and I just added a link in the chat to our academic leaders listserv because there have been some conversations going on there about lower schools in summer PD that might be helpful for folks.
Brad: Thank you all so much for participating today. Nice to get into this topic and I'm sure we'll be circling back to this later this summer. Thank you all.
Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)