Preparing for Back to School: Fall Showdown: Remote vs. Online

back to school
(Image credit: Gilbert Public Schools)

Preparing for Back to School is a new series of articles from attendees and speakers of Tech & Learning's events. Click here to learn more about these events and to apply to attend.

Where: Gilbert Public Schools, Gilbert, Arizona

Who: Jon Castelhano, Executive Director of Technology  

Wrapping up the 2019-20 school year is currently the task at hand, trying to recreate some kind of normal for our 2020 graduates and send them off to their next chapter in life has been a tremendous challenge. As we transition to summer school opportunities, August is looming in the background with the uncertainty of plans on how we will return on the first day of the 2020-21 school year. So the question becomes how do we begin the planning process and the simple answer is to reflect.  

Remote Learning 

The coronavirus pandemic forced schools to move in unprecedented ways to accommodate students learning from home. The answer for Gilbert Public Schools, like many, was to implement remote learning

Part of the fall planning process has begun with gathering feedback from teachers on what worked well and what could be improved to create a best practices reference for retraining teachers in preparation for fall, if necessary. The reflection process will provide valuable insight for the technology integration educators, professional development team, and the Teaching & Learning staff: 

“It will be important that we continue to use rigorous curriculum and standards-based resources. We will also need to utilize blended learning strategies and overall best instructional practices that bring together brick-and-mortar and virtual collaborative structures so that students can engage with the material in various ways and as seamlessly as possible. In addition, it will be important to make the content and instruction accessible and user-friendly for students, teachers, and families.”
Barbara Newman, Executive Director of Teaching & Learning  

Take It Online

Online education traditionally is entirely online, self-paced, and utilizes a learning platform to provide course content. Gilbert Public Schools has transitioned to online instruction for the 2020 summer school schedule. 

Planning began with Global Academy Director Peter Bartanen presenting to the GPS Cabinet the Academy’s current model and the differences between the remote and online environment. Peter and his team will begin training traditional classroom teachers on how to manage the online environment to best support the summer school students. This will allow our students the opportunity to continue their education and allow us to gather valuable feedback to continue planning for the possibility of not returning to a normal schedule. If online learning becomes necessary in the fall, the team believes it is possible to expand their training to include all teachers.

“The first focus for teachers would be on how to best use the learning management system to customize courses and build highly engaging and worthwhile lessons. Then, teachers would learn their role in the online classroom, particularly how they can provide effective asynchronous feedback, take advantage of the real-time data coming in showing their students' progress, and initiate live, targeted small group instruction.”
-- Peter Bartanen, Global Academy Director 

Support IT

back to school

Gilbert Public School's drive-through device repair  (Image credit: Jon Castelhano/Gilbert Public Schools)

The preparation to support whatever the final model looks like in the 2020-21 school year adds an additional layer of complexity for the district IT needs. Fortunately, the GPS Technology Services department prepared for the current remote learning model and will continue to support the summer school model adjusting when necessary. 

Supporting more than 20,000 student devices requires a strong phone support model, so increased need for help desk attendants was handled by the Information Systems department. Utilizing existing staff that is used to working daily with staff members online or on the phone is key to the customer service experience. 

GPS Technology Services also set up a central drive-thru model. Users with issues first need to contact the help desk, which helps keep the drive-thru from becoming backed up and decreases wait times. The Customer Care Technicians handle the technical issues and repairs that follow the ticket workflow process, which is initially created by the help desk attendants. 

These new daily practices can be reflected upon and adjustments can be made on the fly to guarantee a good customer experience for our students, parents, and staff. If school does not resume normally in the fall, there has been ample time to reflect on the daily practices, feedback from users, and observations by administration to adjust and be prepared to support the learning process going forward. 

Hello 2020-21 School Year

With every experience that has taken place since the coronavirus pandemic started, the staff of Gilbert Public Schools has been learning and will use this knowledge to craft a plan to provide our students the best learning experience possible in the fall. 

The best recommendation that can be shared is to document your struggles and successes up to this point, reflect on them, and use that knowledge to prepare for the fall. Education has been forced to change the way it does business and will forever be different; it is our job to learn from this change and improve the opportunities for our students.  

 Jon Castelhano is currently the Executive Director of Technology for the Gilbert Public School District. Jon is a seasoned educator with 20 years in educational technology and 24 years in public education. He oversees all technology needs at Gilbert Public Schools including a successful 7-12 grade 1:1 initiative, and a technology services team dedicated to the students and staff of the district.