The school year is virtually wrapping up. I look like Grizzly Adams and I’ve officially gained the Quarantine 15.
The big question: What will school be like when we start in August?
As an indicator, Class of 2020 Graduation Ceremonies will be virtual in June. Face to face graduation ceremonies are possible in July or August depending on the COVID-19 guidance and social distancing requirements.
There is still no definitive plan for what school will look like when it opens in August. However, DeKalb Schools is full speed ahead planning on school in traditional classrooms as well as Virtual Classrooms.
The lock down has introduced many of us to the wonders of video conferencing. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Google Hangouts and now Facebook has come out with Messenger Rooms. I asked Stacy Stepney, DeKalb Schools’ Chief Academic Officer, to give us some insight into the future of Virtual Classrooms at DeKalb Schools.
DeKalb Schools – Chief Academic Officer
With the recent purchase of Microsoft Teams licenses for our teachers, we are able to connect with students and parents through the audio/video conference feature. Teachers have begun using the audio/video conference feature to facilitate student conferences and parent conferences and introduce new standards using PowerPoint presentations, notes, instructional software, and/or live lectures and demonstrations.
Personally, I like Slack messaging and conferencing for business. Zoom is a solid and simple stand alone video conferencing tool with good administrator capabilities. Microsoft Teams, like everything else Microsoft does, is rich and thick and chocolaty with all kinds of functionality that makes it a bit overwhelming.
Last month, DeKalb Schools Board approved 7,100 Microsoft Teams licenses at $11.50/license for a grand total of $82,000.
Derrick Brown is DeKalb Schools’ Interim Chief Information Officer. I asked him why the school district recommended Microsoft Teams for school house video conferencing.
DeKalb Schools – Chief Information Officer
Teachers are welcome to use any FERPA compliant video/audio tools they choose.
Here’s a summary from Microsoft
Microsoft Teams Capacity and District Examples: celebrated the 3rd anniversary of Microsoft Teams and how customers are staying connected/productive amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic. Microsoft also shared updated global capacity now at 44M daily active users – up 12M with over 900 million meeting/calling minutes in the last 7 days – including 93 of the Fortune 100 now using Microsoft Teams.
K-12 short list using Microsoft Teams:
• Miami Dade
• New York City Department of Education
To: All DCSD Teachers and Instructional Support
From: Monika Davis, Executive Director of Innovation and Information
Through: Derrick Brown, Chief Information Officer
Subject: Video Conferencing Information for DCSD Students, Employees, and Families
Date: April 7, 2020
DeKalb County School District is striving to continuously improve virtual learning and the online experience for students, employees and families. To this point, you may be aware that Zoom video conferencing is getting a lot of attention both positively and negatively. We understand that many of our teachers were resourceful and began utilizing Zoom to stay in touch with students and families. Although our school district is not banning this tool, we would like to offer some information, guidance, and best practices as it pertains to safety and security when utilizing web conferencing with students.
District-Supported Options with District-Owned Devices
DCSD currently supports three video conferencing options for use with district-owned devices.
· VERGE has a video conferencing feature for teachers to use with up to 10 students at a time.
· Microsoft Teams will be available for teachers to use individually or with entire classes of students starting April 13, 2020.
· Google Hangouts has video conferencing capability available for staff to staff communication only.
Be advised that student Chromebook cameras are disabled for two-way video use. Cameras are activated on student devices when a teacher initiates or creates a Microsoft Teams or VERGE web conference with students. Again, this is only when using district-supported devices. DCSD cannot control personal teacher and student devices. For this reason, we recommend that employees use their personal devices when using the Zoom application for optimal access.
Training and Support
Training on VERGE, Microsoft Teams, and Google Hangouts can be found on our IGNITE U internal portal:
Stay connected for ongoing updates and training opportunities.
Security and Privacy Best Practices
Security and privacy for our students should be at forefront of our minds. Here are some best practices from Common Sense Media: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/how-to-get-kids-ready-to-video-chat-for-online-classes
What insight / input have been afforded to the classroom teachers?
Where is the forum so we can engage in truthful dialogue.
I attended several TEAMS training and when various questions arose, the facilitator’s response was “that will be covered that in the next session” or “the District did not pay for that”. It was both frustrating and belittling. We were / and still are boots on the ground working our behinds off only to be dismissed. We did not have time to wait for the next session. We needed the answer then or at least to courtesy to be directed to a link for some assistance.
I don’t think we can truly make progress unless all members of the team are engaged. Now is the time before the 20-21 school year begins.
No one was available to answer real questions about the product. Many help desk ticket were unanswered but closed.
Stan: I completely agree with your assessment of Microsoft Teams and have no interest in using it for my virtual lessons in the fall. Verge is equally clumsy. Google Classroom is far and away the best solution I have explored because, among other things, it is seamless, is already integrated into other online tools like BrainPOP, Google Forms and others, has all the tools under one roof, is user-friendly for both students and teachers, and best of all it is free. But DCSD will not allow me to use it. So I ask yet again, Why do we pay half a million dollars a year for an inferior product (Verge) when a much more robust, user-friendly solution (Google Classroom) is free? Did someone at the county office (or a family member) benefit from the purchase of Verge?
@Frustrated and Weary Educator, Thank you for taking care of our babies.
Input – I believe the iterim CIO before Brown had a sub committee of teachers, principals and administrators to get input on various technology items. They were instrumental in getting teachers access to Google Classroom.
Forum – I hope you can at least use this site as a forum for truthful dialogue.
Teams Questions – Personnel outside the school house are generally weak and support could obviously be much better. Can you talk to fellow teachers or a technology specialist at your school? Information is abound the internet about Microsoft Teams. I suspect your answer is online somewhere. Feel free to also pose any questions you have here.
The current CIO is Google Classroom friendly. You should be able to use all the free Google Classroom tools. Please let me know if there is a free Google Classroom tool you can’t use. Derrick Brown sent this out a few months ago …
TO: Principals and Assistant Principals
FROM: Derrick Brown, Chief Information Officer
DATE: March 18, 2020
RE: Access to Google Classroom
What is going to be the plan for our special needs population? I understand this situation is difficult and there isn’t a solution for all students, but I literally cannot serve my students without being in the same room. Also, the district has provided no help or training to special needs teachers as to how we are supposed to instruct students with severe disabilities virtually, but yet they have hounded us for documentation of how we are accommodating these children. They are so worried about getting sued, but they are leaving us high and dry. It is beyond frustrating. I cannot return to this kind of unsupportive situation in the fall where I pretend to know how to serve students with severe disabilities virtually.
Virtual learning is not effective and it’s damaging young minds. The research has being done years ago regarding how the information is learned and retained the best way by a human being: 1. through a robot delivering info. 2. human being through video conference 3. the standard teacher in the classroom delivering info. The proportion of info retained in students was the lowest with the robot AND to the surprise of some researchers it was as low with the human being through the video. We are social beings and human physical presence and human interaction is crucial for us to learn and thrive. Of course you won’t hear it from the big tech companies. The technology was being pushed into the classrooms so much already and with this situation it’s being pushed even further. The big technology corporations getting their money and raising a generation of narrow minded technology addicted individuals.
Why can’t Dekalb think about amending calendar so we start after Labor Day and end early June?The district can have extra time to put together effective methods for either in class or virtually but pushing start date out gives more time for that. All the best tech in world can’t replace in person class room interactions and vital play with peers on playground. I understand the dilemma I just wanted to throw out also changing the date a little so teachers and students can have a better experience. As a parent if we don’t go back in class for new year some of us may end up finding our own way – through actual homeschooling.
Can we deploy the chromebooks locked up in schools before spending millions on additional chromebooks for k-5? And can we allow those with Devices to use their own like Gwinnett does?
@Chromebook Hoards, The board originally purchased 1 Chromebook for every 2 elementary students. This latest purchase is to make that a 1-1 ratio. From home, obviously students can use their own device. My understanding is that most students get their own devices on the school wifi. I’m guessing IT is trying to mitigate security risks. I don’t know if we are sophisticated enough to have guest wifi networks.
@Anonymous they have presented that as an option.
From a high school perspective, that will make it harder for counselors and teachers to help students get into college. The first two weeks of school involve a lot of schedule adjusting. A post-labor day start date leaves precious little time before a mid-October application deadline.
I echo many of the other teachers here. Teachers need to be able to provide input. A small committee is not sufficient enough. If we are to instruct virtually, we need to have sufficient notice and time to collaborate and plan. Lastly, students need to be held to a higher standard in the fall. I refuse to give out A’s to students who complete 2 assignments for an entire 9-weeks.
As a parent of two elementary-age students, I fear the long term impacts on my children. I have a rising kindergartner. Online learning is not the way a 5 year should learn. Learning needs to happen in the classroom through socialization. I also have no clue how I’m supposed to teach my own children while also doing my job as a high-school teacher.
@anonymous – Our calendar has high schoolers in mind. It’s ideal to balance the calendar in a way to have 90 days in the fall and 90 days in the spring. In addition, AP exams are conducted the first two weeks of May, so spring semester block schedule class would have a HUGE loss of instructional time.
I agree. If we’re doing virtual learning in the fall, we need a better way to hold students accountable for the grade they want. We have two and a half months to figure this out. I have students who did everything I asked of them and get a B or C and students who did 3 or 4 things and get an A. This isn’t acceptable. We need to be able have a way to train students and parents how to use the various platforms. VERGE is not user friendly at all and I look forward to being able to use Google Classroom more. The training we had for Microsoft Teams as a substitute for VERGE or whatever is bulky and not intuitive. Students can’t just be told use this and not be shown how to. We’ve got the time to get this right. Let’s do what is right for students and educators.
@ High School Teacher & @Witsend,
I totally agree. When the District made the announcement “Hold Harmless” a large number of my students stopped working. The grades this year are sooooo inflated. I did some research and found that a number of the school districts across the county were doing the same; however, several of the systems took into consideration what the students actually accomplished. They took into consideration that there would be students who would not do any work and thus their final grade reflected such. Note that the final grade was contingent upon administrative contact and proper teacher documentation.
With regards to Google Classroom vs VERGE and TEAMS.
I don’t recall being provided an explanation as to why DCSD could not use Google Classroom prior to COVID19.
DCSD purchased Chromebooks for our students and faculty.
Google Suites for Educators is included with those Chromebooks purchases.
Google Classroom is apart of Google Suites for Educators
Google Classroom interfaces with many platforms the District already uses: Brain Pop, USA Test Prep, EdPuzzle, CK12, NearPod, StemScopes, & Discovery Education
Google Classroom interfaces with many of the textbooks the District uses; Pearson Easy Bridge. Cengage Learning & Holt McDougal aka Holt Mifflin & Harcourt.
There are a number of districts in Georgia (Clarke County School District, Henry County Schools, Atlanta Public Schools & Gwinnett County Public Schools) using Google Classroom and my fellow colleagues in those districts only have great things to say about it (Ease of use & Differentiation).
Google Classroom allows for teachers collaboration within the building and outside of the building; with other teachers at other schools
I’ve been to several VERGE training sessions and this is the most difficult platform to use. I tried to collaborate with colleagues at different schools and it’s not possible unless the technology department creates a class for the user.
Verge limits the number of students a teacher can have for synchronous learning.
Verge is not intuitive and takes multiple steps to post an assignment / assessment.
Verge separated the students based on leveling (gifted, general ed, special ed) which means I have to upload the assignments several times.
Lastly, since the Governor has directed every department to cut 14% of the budget, which translates to DCSD receiving less funding, shouldn’t DCSD also look at their spending? $82,000 for Microsoft TEAMS site licences, for how long? What is the true cost of VERGE? How many teachers are using it with fidelity?
Why do they continue to spend money on programs with limited functionality when Google Classroom is the best? That money could have been used for something else.
Well, at least Stepney responded to you. I wrote her back in October regarding my concern over the Math pacing guide being ableist. I am a Special Education Teacher; I am concerned about the pace my students are expected to ‘get’ content as well as the number of district-mandated assessments I am supposed to administer.
These folks are not about doing what’s best for the students.
Do you know why the District seems reluctant to utilize Google Classroom? The students have chromebooks, organization is built into the systems as is conferencing and closed captioning. The cost of maintaining the Teams license and the Verge license seem unneccesary
Hello Monise and D, Thanks for participating in the conversation.
Google Classroom vs VERGE – I’ve been going round and round with the administration for years on this debate. Fortunately, the current interim CIO is relatively pro Google Classoom and is opening it up. A few CIOs ago, this is what we gave me when I asked why he prefers VERGE over Google Classroom
Google Classroom Vs VERGE – Feedback
Testing – Testing is slowly coming to a head. The district is working on shaking off some of the state/federally mandated testing. Granted, most of mandated tests we have are mandated by the central office. I’ve never met a teacher, student or parent that likes all this testing.
Thanks Stan. Google classroom does take time to learn and implement well. If DeKalb would take advantage of the experience of some of its charters they have a great resource. Allowing teachers to use it is a great first step but without adequate training on how to build a google classroom and track assignments it won’t be appropriately utilized
Hey D, Google generally has pretty good documentation. Obviously, different teachers use Google Classroom to various extents. What percentage of the teachers do you think have the capacity to learn how to use it on their own?
I would never say that a teacher doesn’t have capacity and there are tutorials but it’s not the most efficient way to learn. Each school should have a GAFE administrator to help build and support classrooms, enter assignments and announcements and otherwise use the tool. Students and parents need training too. Some of it is not intuitive but it does have a parent portal that helps parents know what is being done, due dates, missing assignments etc.
I might be alone on this, but I found the VERGE platform completely acceptable. The challenge was that many kids didn’t know how to use it, and assignments were turned in a variety of formats, including my personal favorite. ‘unable to open.” Might there be a better way? Perhaps, but whatever system is used, teachers and students need some serious tutorials, and not just some sleep inducing video instruction.
@Edugator. Interesting feedback. How do you feel VERGE compares to Google Classroom?
Haven’t used Google Classroom, so not qualified to speak about that.
So Edugator, as far as you know … Google Classroom could be a thousand times better.
As someone who has been teaching daily using Google Classroom, Google is a 1000% better. I could also see my child struggle with Verge the whole time. Google is so user friendly. Not only for the teacher and student but also the parents.
I disagree with your comparison. I am a teacher who has deep knowledge of both systems. Do you know where
google classroom was 5 years ago as it relates to features and security? It is very easy to make comparisons & talk about this now because google classroom has developed over the years. I can also remember a big to do about googles issues with privacy. At the time parents had huge issues with it. Maybe you forgot about that? Everyone is pro google now but 5 years ago that was not the case so I can see why the decision was made.
You are also only speaking to end user functionality. I would love to see architecture comparisons. I have never made tech purchases but I am sure they are looking at other area’s about the system and not just how it works for teachers. These days security is a very important topic.
@TechTeacher, Which comparison do you disagree with? Around 2016 (I think) DeKalb Schools gave all teachers access to Google Classroom. A year or so later, DeKalb Schools abruptly cut off access in an attempt to move everybody to VERGE. I don’t know about the features or security in the past. I do know that many teachers wanted to use Google Classroom and were told they couldn’t.
Google Tracking – If you have a hand held device, I’m confident it has some sort of Google app on it …. Let’s face it, Google is tracking everyone. It’s a valid concern in our outside the context of Google Classroom.
Question – Given your in depth knowledge and exposure to VERGE and Google Classroom, how would you compare the two now?
I disagree again. Phones have options that allow you to control certain aspects of what is being tracked. Lets face it, google is tracking everyone? That is an irresponsible statement and should not be the reason you make a decision. The point of the conversation was not about what I think now. It was about reasoning around why maybe those decisions were made. I can’t remember receiving any email from county office saying google was was approved. Back then as teachers we would
use applications that weren’t always approved & just because we had access to it does not mean it was approved. You still did not answer the security question. When you post comparisons you should include system specs and not just surface capabilities.
PS… Stan privacy is just not about location data. In reading articles you can find several from years ago that include court cases around google selling student performance data. Surprised but not surprised that you have no comment on that.
@TechTeacher, Sooo … as you may or may not know, I write software for a living. The software I write happens to give me access to Google middle management. I’m just telling you what they tell me, “if you have a mobile device, Google is more than likely tracking you.” Given the number of various google apps and end user agreements, you have to be vigilant to keep Google from tracking you.
“Post comparisons” – Oh … I assume you’re talking about this Google Classroom Vs VERGE – Comparison on my blog I linked to. On my blog post I said, “[Google Classroom] is an invaluable and free tool used by numerous schools across the district.” Gary Brantly, DeKalb Schools CIO, said, “Google classroom has been discontinued”. He provided that comparison and did not include any system specs. You are more than welcome to provide said specs. I didn’t agree or disagree with Brantly’s comparison and asked for public feedback on what he sent me.
Please restate any questions you have.
Still you avoid answering questions. Lol.
I am not a big google fan and as a parent I have had several concerns around how the district uses certain software platforms without parental consent. Also, did I just read that you work with google on software development? I hope that is not the case or the reasoning as to why you are pushing for google.
Hello DcsdEd. I own a software company with three other guys. Google management reaches out to us to better understand our software. Frankly, a growing percentage of the population is going to Amazon for searches instead of using Google search … which is something Google is becoming increasingly concerned about.
In no way do I work for Google or any other corporation like that. In no way does google use the software we write or pay us for anything we do.
I’m going to say the same thing to my child’s public school system as to their private one: if we wanted fully online learning there are plenty of programs to pick from and they cost one helluva lot less than what we’re getting via tuition or taxes.
The structure of the school day, the physical presence of teachers and other students, the resources of the classroom make a huge difference in how well my children learn. My DeKalb student has an IEP which requires additional assistance and provides for additional social learning. So a mandatory virtual learning is a non-starter. The amount of organization that it takes to keep track of lessons (when available) and work is what you would expect of an adult, not a grade-schooler. We got with the program and cooperated with the directives for at-home schooling because there was no other option and complaining would be an additional problem rather than a solution.
Google Classroom was far easier to manage than the collection of numerous logins for different lessons and resources. My 3rd grader had NO chance of managing any of this on his own; his 4th grade sister, whose school had been using Google classroom regularly to augment the classroom had a much easier time – but still had to be reminded to check for teacher feedback, hit the “submit” button, etc. Teachers would contact me if something was missing or needed to be added and back to the computer we would go.
Our house had it easier than many: everyone had their own device to do their own work and only occasionally did something have to be shared. That doesn’t change the fact that parents have to multitask between school and work, assuming you’re able to work at home at all. (We already work at home in our house – one hurdle down.)
Now, with all of this said: a well-organized online learning *option* can have benefits. I have to take my son out of town regularly for medical care. The teachers had a great routine: I let them know the dates, textbooks and assignments and schedules came home in the backpack. We took said backpack and a device on the road (a tablet that was assigned by AT for speech therapy) and “school” happens in clinics and hotel rooms. There’s a great photo of my son with an IV in his arm working through an IXL exercise on his tablet. 🙂 When school is in session, if he’s out for 10 days, that triggers the hospital/homebound requirement. But during the lockdown, I didn’t have to resort to HHB. Everything was virtual anyway so who cares where we were? For special cases, it can help kids keep up without undue paperwork if they have to be out of the physical class. You can also eliminate snow/ice days and replace them with “virtual” days. Assuming the power doesn’t go out.
It wasn’t even a month later. It was roughly around August/September 2016/2017. We had access for a couple weeks and bam, we were locked out of it until earlier this year.
As of now, I prefer Google Classroom. It is easier to post assignments. I am still learning how to use it but it has a much easier learning curve than Verge. Also, much more support and tips online for Google Classroom vs Verge.
I use Verge for mostly for compliance at this point. The district can track usage on Verge vs Google classroom for the time being so that’s what they want us to use for the most part.
I post my assignments on Verge and I direct my students to their assignments on Google Classroom and other platforms. I do prefer the discussion board/chat on Verge vs Google Classroom.
I am waiting to see the plan for digital learning for next year from Curriculum/Instruction over the summer.
Verge is not a friendly website at all. Using Verge for 10 students at a time and paying for Microsoft Office and Verge for millions of dollars is dumb if we already know we are in a budget shortfall and can get rid of programs that cost money that are in triplicate form. We have Chromebooks and finally access to pretty much all of Google for Education. We have Google Classroom, Google Meet, and Google Chat. I helped a fellow teacher that is one of the most technologically inept people I have met. It took most of the school closure trying to help her get her classes uploaded on Verge. She finally got the hang of things in the past three weeks. When Google Classroom access was put back on I hadn’t used it, but I went to YouTube watched some videos and basically taught myself in a day. I used what I learned to show her how to create a class and classwork in Google Classroom. She was able to do that in a hour and even understood what she was doing. Google Classroom is not that hard to learn…if she can pick it up so can students, parents, and other teachers. It is leaps and bounds better than that Verge/Microsoft Teams collaboration. The best thing the board can do is start having county wide training on Google Classroom for teachers and parents. That way everyone can know what to do at one time.
When schools started pushing apps (and google) on my kids I told them to sign up using the least amount of info required. I signed them up for fake email addresses that they could use for school apps, had them use fake actual addresses if required, and only first name with last initial. So if my kid’s name was Henry Arron, it was HenryA. Did it help maintain their privacy? I don’t know. And since chromebooks came out, there’s little chance privacy is maintained at all…
Probably paranoid overkill on my part, but Google wants your information. Stan, you can say whatever, but they are an advertising business that wants to know as much as possible about you. I didn’t think my kids needed to be making these decisions at 10 or 11 years old. So I made them.
Google has successfully sold their “free” tech to schools and businesses across the US. Free was enough for most schools – school administrations across the country punted on this issue. Hey, this school is doing it, we can’t fall behind, screw privacy. Given DeKalb’s lack of leadership I’m not surprised they did (and continue to do) the same.
A reader emailed me this bit of helpful information. Thank you for the links …
Tomato potato. All kids (and parents) want is consistency, utility and quality. This spring has shown the hazards of teachers using multiple sites, so a MS kid might have to visit 10 different sites to gather lessons together. Verge? Google classroom? AOL? I don’t care. We just need to be on the same page.
Adrienne Duncan, I wish everyone whose child has an IEP had your experience.
I tried to get Hospital Home-bound seervices written into my son’s IEP after he was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. “The Team” would not add it until after he was absent for 10 days. Well, he was and none of his teachers emailed him his assignments as was written in his IEP.
I had the form filled out and took it to his SpEd teach on the 10th day he was out and it took over a week for her to reach out to me. My son was more than 15 days behind in schoolwork at that point. We had to withdraw him from school.
The school district failed him.
So sorry that you had a time getting help / instruction for your son. I do have a question if you don’t mine sharing. Crohn’s falls under medical therefore a 504 should have been established for your son. An IEP is for exceptional ed (special or gifted). I’m confused by your statement, was it a medical issue, a special ed issue, or both.
Which ever it was I truly understand your frustration. We as a district must do better by placing competent individuals in place.
I teach in “Microsoft Teams” district and I can assure you all that the functionality of Microsoft products is far superior to Google (I cannot attest to Verge; however, based on everyone’s comments it ranks low).
It more so sounds as though some teachers lack training in Microsoft Teams/OneNote/Forms/etc… which is common for any new software roll out. If DeKalb mandated specific “Teams” and “OneNote/ClassNotebook” training, teachers would quickly realize that you could organize notebooks, engage with students in real time, assign homework, provide live feedback, create groups, secure quizzes– this is in addition to the fact that it’s FERPA compliant.
I don’t know about you, but as a parent I would not want my children’s school records, documents, etc easily and readily available via Google Classroom. It’s not secure, and there’s a reason why many districts are spending more money to purchase Microsoft.
Many students (middle and high school) are left alone all day because of working parents. A high school student can navigate getting up on their own, logging into a computer, and participating in the online lesson. Middle schoolers, on the other hand, may not realize the significance of logging on at a particular time. The lessons from Middle School seem more like “It’s Learning” assignments–no face to face instruction with teachers or interaction with peers. Possibly, the middle schooler doesn’t know how to work the program. Possibly, since there is no adult supervision, the student simply skips the log ins. When will Dekalb County begin incorporating in person instruction?