Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Amplified art by Jillian O'Connor, 9/18 post, photo 3

Moving to online schooling this fast is almost as hard as teaching a dog to type.

Parent opinion: Our teachers are pulling off the impossible with remote learning

Companies would prep several years to try this kind of experiment

A look back at how our highly unusual school year started off. 

Could YOU do this?

Sept. 15, 2020

Last week was the first week of remote school for our daughter. It went OK, but it wasn’t without its issues, though most were technical and we were still using our own devices.

I’m a technical person and I’ve been doing web meetings of one sort or another for nearly two decades. I’ve done demos, run training sessions, even had to work through an interpreter, all over a web meeting. I also attend and run multiple video calls every week, and there is NO way I could do what our daughter’s Seattle Public Schools teachers are doing.

On Friday, we picked up the district-issued iPad for our first-grader, and Monday was the first day using that device. Today was the second day of longer classes, though we still aren’t up to a full day of classes, and there were definitely more than a few issues.

I’ve been thinking about what I’m seeing and hearing, and I would like to add some perspective.

I’d like you to do this thought experiment about a fictional series of web training sessions:

• Select an audience of 20 to 30 people. You want the people with the shortest attention spans and least technology skills you can find. You will interact with both these people AND their managers.

• Make sure they are all slightly short on sleep and fairly stressed. Just for fun, keep them inside and without regular exercise for AT LEAST five days. (We just had to do this because of smoke in Seattle.)

• Make sure everybody is extremely well-caffeinated. Double whatever they would normally drink. Then add some more.

• Make sure everybody, including you, is using an unfamiliar device and video conferencing software in addition to a couple other software packages. All software is in Beta and the cloud platforms are all slightly undersized. All support staff are overloaded and stressed.

• Plan to communicate with the managers for about 75% of the issues your attendees have. You will use FOUR different apps to do this, including text, email, chat in the video software, and chat in a related app. The managers are all trying to do their day jobs and some are helping more than one attendee.

• Make sure all internet connectivity runs through a VPN and is limited to specific sites. Do this with a VPN connection that is running at roughly 10 to 20 times the load it would normally run.

• Make sure all network and internet connections are slightly overloaded and flaky.

• Everybody gets a 10-inch tablet screen on which to watch those 20 to 30 other people in the meeting. You can have a laptop with one external monitor. You have to run the meeting yourself.

• Now try to teach something. For three hours. Repeat daily for five days.

Do you think you could do this with even a remote chance of success? If so, you’re probably a teacher or you should be one!

If not, please remember to be kind and appreciative with your child’s teacher, who is living roughly this scenario every day.

Grace and patience for your school system

Sept. 4, 2020

My first-grader started remote school this morning and there were definitely some technology challenges, even in our house, and I’ve run an IT department!

I work for a K-12 education company (Certica Solutions) and I have customers that I talk to in several states. Our school and school district are in the same boat that just about every other district in the country is in.

What they’re doing is rolling out a whole new way to do education (remote) using new technology on a crazy short timeline with very limited resources.

If they were following best practices in the industry for this, they would have spent a year or two planning and researching platforms. Then there would be a trial implementation for another year or so using a limited set of schools and students and, finally, a phased rollout involving training everybody on using the new systems, making sure adequate technology and support was available, and ironing out difficulties as they went.

You could probably compress the trial and phased rollout into a single year for a small district, but a more realistic expectation would be two years for a district the size of ours. I’d expect the first part of the trial implementation to look like what we saw this morning — after two years of planning and implementation.

That all adds up to THREE to FOUR years of planning and implementation. They’ve done it in, at most, SIX MONTHS.

No, it’s not perfect, but it’s a heck of a lot better than it should be given the timeline.

Districts are also fighting for resources on all sorts of different levels. Yes, hardware is hard to come by for obvious reasons, but software, vendor support, and technology staff are also very hard to get right now. Lots of school system vendors are just overwhelmed by trying to help move things online and having to accelerate their own timelines (and hire staff and find hardware to do it).

Lots of vendor systems were never designed to scale the way they are now having to, and even cloud-based systems can run into scaling issues.

All that to say this: there are a LOT of people at all levels, both at your school district and at various vendors, who are working VERY hard to make this happen and deserve our grace and patience.

Also, don’t forget a little grace and patience with yourself, too, as you help your student and fellow parents along — you’d never be expected to do this in real life, either.

Hang in there. We’ve all got this!

About the Author

Jim Marlow

Jim Marlow has worked for software companies for the past 20 years, and currently works for a K-12 education software company. He's married and is the father of a 6-year-old first-grader, whom he is also helping teach this year.