That’s how Emily Bell, Fulton County Schools CIO, recalls the day in mid-March 2020 when the Georgia district closed its doors and launched into remote instruction in response to the novel coronavirus.
Prior to the pandemic, FCS occasionally scheduled digital learning days, when students stayed home and participated in virtual instruction using a teacher- or school-assigned platform.
“Before the pandemic, we knew it was a valuable experience for our students to engage in online platforms,” she says.
But those digital learning days didn’t happen often — and when they did, the mix in platforms didn’t always lend itself to collaboration between schools.
District leadership understood that standardizing a productivity and collaboration platform across a district of 95,000 students and 14,000 employees would be difficult — but a step leadership knew the school system must soon take.
Making the Pivot to Digital
But like so many other school districts, in a matter of months the pandemic thrust FCS into the next phase of its digital learning evolution.
“When you do something big in a fairly large district, you just need runway, and this pandemic allowed no runway,” Bell says. “So, we used the platforms we already had, we scaled them, and then we sustained them. I believe that made us successful.”
By summer 2020, FCS selected Canvas as an LMS and leaned into its Microsoft license, switching all schools to Microsoft Teams for synchronous instruction. The tech shift also required more professional development meant to ensure that all educators — from early adopters to ed tech novices — could effectively use the tools for instruction.
“Although the technology tools were there, some had never used them before. So, having to take what you would normally do in a face-to-face classroom and then convert that to remote teaching overnight — without ever having done it before — that’s a big lift,” says Heather Van Looy, the district’s director of instructional technology.
As it turns out, FCS was not alone. According to a 2020 GBH Education survey of more than 1,900 educators nationwide, “only 66 percent of teachers reported being very or extremely confident in using digital media services for teaching after the pandemic-prompted shift to remote learning.”
In addition, the survey found that 13 percent of teachers started using K–12 ed tech only after the pandemic-related school closures. And for schools that remained partially open, teachers also had another concern: Simultaneously instructing two sets of students (remote and in-person) became a huge challenge that some districts resolved by creating separate, stand-alone virtual academies.
Integrate Ed Tech Tools with Key Professional Development
Regardless of classroom setup, school districts need to help teachers gain confidence using ed tech. Instructional technology coaches are key to that effort, says Mindy Frisbee, senior director of learning partnerships at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). When it comes to creating effective ed tech training, it’s critical that educators not only know the fundamentals of how to use a tool but also understand why and when to use it, she says.
The percentage of teachers who believe technology will make them more effective post-pandemic
In this regard, FCS educators were probably more ready for remote learning than most due to their not-so-secret weapon: their Vanguard team — an in-house corps of ed tech experts that includes teachers and principals who volunteer as instructional coaches, Van Looy explains.
The program launched in 2013 with just 25 members and now has 300, dramatically increasing the capacity of the district’s four-member instructional technology department. Since Vanguard members were already embedded in schools when the pandemic hit, they were “ready to take the wheel” and lead training as instruction went remote, Van Looy says.
The pandemic also demonstrated to FCS how crucial it is to have an agile PD strategy and strong relationships with ed tech vendors and other community resources.
It’s a move that ISTE’s Frisbee also supports. She says technology providers especially can “help educators move beyond just the tool itself, to think about transformational practice. That way, it’s really elevating the whole field.”
FCS worked with Microsoft, a long-term partner, to create a series of remote professional development sessions that are still available on demand, according to Van Looy.
The district also expanded an existing relationship with nearby Kennesaw State University, which sent in coaches to help teachers make the most of programs such as Nearpod and Adobe Spark. The result? “People really jumped in,” Van Looy says, using the tools to create lessons and assessments.
Working Within a Shifting Model
Neal Weaver, Santa Fe Public Schools’ chief information and strategy officer, says that since the pandemic began, the district has taken a “learning while doing” approach to new technology.
It rolled out Canvas in 2020, and in addition to lesson planning and grading, the district uses the LMS to deliver professional development. It also offered virtual one-to-one support over Google Meets during remote learning.
The PD-via-LMS setup requires that teachers engage with the course material, upload a lesson plan based on what they learned and then write a reflection of how it went. Not only are there metrics to support what took place, but teachers get practice using the platform at the same time, Weaver says.
Now that most of Santa Fe Public Schools’ 13,000 students are back in person, the district is using PD to bring the skills, practices and collaborative nature of remote learning into the live classroom.
To help, the district deploys 13 digital learning coaches at over 30 locations.
“One of the biggest things we’re doing is just trying to help teachers think differently about the ways they are using technology within their classroom to better engage their students,” Weaver says. “The biggest travesty in all this would be that we come back to school, and we continue to do it the way we did it before we left.”
The biggest travesty in all this would be that we come back to school, and we continue to do it the way we did it before we left.”
Chief Information and Strategy Officer, Santa Fe Public Schools
As schools move into the next phase of teaching, whether that’s in person or fully remote, there’s an opportunity to rethink PD, experts say.
Frisbee recommends that educators and district leaders work together with ed tech vendors to share what’s working well and what needs improvement. Districts and providers should also get familiar with ISTE Standards, a framework that defines what it looks like when a student or educator uses the digital tools and resources effectively, she says.
Everything about elections has been weird (well, since the beginning of elections) but it feels even more so now. From a surprisingly large contingent of the U.S. (40% (opens in new tab)!) that believes the last presidential election was stolen to polls that are no longer accurate at predicting who will win, it has been a wild ride.
This election pollsters had some numbers wrong (opens in new tab) as the winds felt as if it would indeed be a huge red wave at the federal level. Instead it was a red trickle.
Now we have split chambers, however, what does this mean for education? Let’s take a look.
The Midterm Elections: Split Chambers and Education
For some, split chambers may not be what they’d like to see for education, but in my time in the field, one of the biggest events in education happened when Congress was controlled by Republicans and the president was a Democrat: The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. ESSA was the first federal piece of education legislation to provide flexibility for educators to start teaching in personalized ways, allow for multiple measures for accountability, and create multiple systems of assessments. It was groundbreaking for education policy.
For me, it was truly a beautiful thing to watch senators Lamar Alexander (R) and Patty Murray (D) come together to work on the Every Student Succeeds Act. President Obama even called the signing of this bill a “Christmas Miracle” when he signed it.
Although it was eligible to be reauthorized in 2021, we likely won’t see the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in the next two years or so. However, it likely won’t be too long until Congress starts eyeing reauthorization as a priority.
Some leading nonprofits and think tanks in the education space have already started putting recommendations out for ESEA upgrades. For example, Knowlegeworks have released their policy recommendations here (opens in new tab), which include:
Improving and expanding the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority.
Increasing formula funding for state assessment systems and triple funding for the Competitive Grants for State Assessment (CGSA) program with a priority on state assessment designs that support student-centered teaching and learning approaches, such as personalized and competency-based learning.
Provide states the opportunity to explore new approaches to school accountability.
The National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment (opens in new tab) also released some policy recommendations in anticipation of the ESEA reauthorization, which includes recommending balanced assessment systems and assessment sampling, maintaining equity, and aligning technical assessment requirements with the purposes of the assessment.
So What’s the Impact of this Election?
Although we aren’t quite ready to see any movement at the federal level, experts and activists expect the most impact of the recent elections will be seen at the state level.
For example, several states are looking at some variation of “reinventing” high school, including Indiana (opens in new tab), where Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) said a top priority for House Republicans is “to ‘reinvent’ high school, so that students can work and use job-based opportunities to receive credit toward graduation.”
In Iowa, after a failed attempt last session, the focus will be on creating a private school scholarship (opens in new tab) program in the state.
In New Hampshire, $5.7 million (opens in new tab) of ESSER funds have been spent on Prenda (opens in new tab), which states that it is a “unique education option that connects students with local microschools. Caring individuals, called Guides, run these microschools from their homes or other suitable locations while Prenda provides the learning experience, state standard-aligned curriculum, and supportive community.”
The tensions of public, charter, and private schools will be strong this session. Technology will still be part of the debate, mostly in terms of how much funding. Gender and race challenges will also again be a hot topic. Other issues will undoubtedly pop up, but one thing is for sure — the battles will be the strongest at the state and local level for the time being.
Still, don’t get comfortable because ESEA reauthorization is right around the corner.
Quandary is a digital space for student to learn how to make effective decisions about moral and ethical dilemmas. Crucially, it teaches them how to research in order to be in the best position to do that.
The idea is to create a game-like experience that is naturally immersive for children. This works well with the simple layout, colorful and engaging design, and varied characters that are a part of this setup.
Available for use via a web browser or on apps across multiple platforms, this is widely accessible, making it suitable for students from any background. It’s also an effective tool for in class use, ideal as a conversation generator.
All that, and it’s free. So is Quandary a good fit for you class?
What is Quandary?
Quandary (opens in new tab) is an online and app-based ethics game that uses scenario-style decision making to evoke a choice by students. Crucially, it’s all about collecting information to make the best decision possible.
Aimed at students aged eight and above, this has an intuitive layout that can be picked up immediately. Since it’s available via a web browser, anyone with nearly any device can get playing. It also comes in app forms on iOS and Android devices, so students can play in their own time, or in class, using their own devices.
The game is set in the future on a distant planet, Braxos, where a human colony is settling. You are the captain and must make decisions about the future of that colony after hearing what everyone has to say and juggling all the needs and wants of the group.
This has been created this as a resource for teachers to use and is presented free and without advertising. It is also can be tailored to a curriculum with subject choices and Common Core standards mapped into the game.
How does Quandary work?
Quandary is so easy to play you can head to the website, hit the play button, and you’re immediately off to a start. Alternatively, download the app for free and get started that way — no personal details needed.
The game starts with you, the captain, on Braxos making decisions that will affect the future of the colony there. Students are given four difficult challenges to solve. Students view a comic book-style story to see the setup to the issue before being given the ability to ‘speak’ with everyone involved to work out what is happening.
Students can then categorize the statements they hear as either facts, opinions, or solutions. The solutions break down into variations on each side for each colonist, and in some cases, the captain can help to sway opinions.
Then you pick a solution to present to the Colonial Council, laying out the best arguments for and against. Then a follow-up comic plays out the rest of the story, showing the outcome of your decisions.
What are the best Quandary features?
Quandary is a superb way to teach decision-making and fact-checking to students. That can apply to all types of research and real-world news digestion as they are encouraged to question sources and motivations before using information to form an opinion and — ultimately — a decision.
The game isn’t black and white in its decision-making. In fact, there are no clear right or wrong answers. Rather, students must work out what is best in a balanced way that usually results in some compromise. All that means negative results from decisions can be minimized but never fully nullified — teaching students a lesson on the reality of decision-making.
Numerous resources are available to teachers, including the ability to pick tasks based on certain subjects such as English language arts, science, geography, history, and social studies. Teachers also have a hub screen through which they can pick ethical challenges to set the class or students and then monitor their decisions and evaluate progress in one place.
A character creation tool allows teachers and students to create parts to play, making it possible to create unique and case-specific ethical dilemmas to work through.
How much does Quandary cost?
Quandary is totally free to download and use across the web, iOS, and Android. There are no adverts and no personal information is required to start using this platform.
Quandary best tips and tricks
Work as a class Play through a game as a class, on the big screen, and stop along the way to dive into discussions on ethical decisions as you go.
Split decisions Set a single mission to multiple groups with certain characteristics and see how the pathways diverge and all feedback to see how the decisions affected the outcomes.
Send it home Set tasks for students to complete with parents or guardians at home so they can share how their discussions went, giving varying perspectives on choices.
The MBA program at the Business School at The Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has launched a new digital tool that will let prospective students analyze their potential return on investment (ROI).
Far more than merely a recruitment method, the return on investment tool is a way of advocating for more transparency and accountability in higher education, says Reverend Dr. Debora Jackson.
“I think we all have a responsibility to do this,” she says. “This feels like an ethical response. There are a lot of students who go to school and take on potentially great amounts of debt, and then don’t see that return.”
The average graduate student incurs $70,000 in student loans to pay for their advanced degree, according to (opens in new tab) the National Center for Education Statistics.
“We have to be better stewards of these resources on behalf of our prospective students. I think that that’s our responsibility in higher education,” Jackson says.
Giving prospective students access to better data to make smarter decisions is in keeping with the lessons taught at WPI’s STEM-focused MBA program that includes concentrations in fields such as analytics, finance, and supply chain operations.
“We see ourselves as using technology to make business education distinctive,” Jackson says. “We’re looking at business intelligence and analytics or supply chain or IT or innovation and entrepreneurship, product management.”
For the return on investment tool (opens in new tab), WPI partnered with Seattle-based data services firm AstrumU to give prospective MBA students access to customized predictions for their career placement, promotion, and earning potential. These predictions are all based on the real-world career outcomes of WPI graduates.
Out of the gate, the cost for an MBA is about $45,000 and the median earnings of a graduate is $119,000, but potential students can customize it to their situations and fields. “You could use this tool and say more specifically where you want to study, where you want to go, where you want to live, the kind of job that you want to have, and get that customized prediction,” Jackson says.
How Students and Educators Can Start Thinking About ROI
When choosing a graduate school or graduate school, students and the educators who provide guidance to them should think about ROI and the career and earnings goals they have in mind. “Do your homework,” Jackson advises. Look for schools that provide statistics on post-graduation success and are transparent and open with other data. Not every program is the right fit for every student but it’s better for students and institutions in the long run if students are able to make more informed decisions.
Jackson hopes that by placing an emphasis on ROI, WPI can help inspire this type of transparency to become more commonplace. She adds that it’s the responsibility of higher ed leaders to make sure that happens. “We’re taking a leadership position in that responsibility,” she says.