Ceres Learns

Ceres Learns at Home: Episode 3 - Technology

April 30, 2020 Season 1 Episode 3
Ceres Learns
Ceres Learns at Home: Episode 3 - Technology
Ceres Learns
Ceres Learns at Home: Episode 3 - Technology
Apr 30, 2020 Season 1 Episode 3

Ceres Learns at Home: Director of Technology Services Chris Higle and Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Dan Pangrazio join Superintendent Scott Siegel for a conversation about the important role of technology in distance learning, and how families can stay connected while schools are closed. 

Show Notes Transcript

Ceres Learns at Home: Director of Technology Services Chris Higle and Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Dan Pangrazio join Superintendent Scott Siegel for a conversation about the important role of technology in distance learning, and how families can stay connected while schools are closed. 

Introduction:   0:08
Hello and welcome to Ceres Learns at Home, hosted by Ceres Unified School District Superintendent Scott Siegel. This weekly Q and A covers distance learning and other topics related to school closures for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. To ask a question for a future episode, email [email protected] Now your host, Dr. Scott Siegel.

Dr. Scott Siegel, Superintendent:   0:35
Hello and welcome to Episode three of Ceres Learns at Home. In this episode, we'll talk about technology during this period of distance learning. I'm pleased to be joined by my guest today, Dan Pangrazio, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services.  

Dan Pangrazio, Assistant Superintendent, Business Services:   0:48

Dr. Scott Siegel, Superintendent:   0:49
And Chris Higle, Director of Technology Services.

Chris Higle, Director of Technology Services:   0:52
Hi, everyone.

Dr. Scott Siegel, Superintendent:   0:53
Thank you both for being here. We're in the middle right now of a seemingly endless parade of days that blend together. And just a few short months ago, the idea of this would have been inconceivable. The idea that learning for 14,000 students would suddenly shift from being delivered face-to-face in classrooms to 100% remotely would have seemed beyond imagination. And yet, here we are.  One of the things that's helping us a tremendous amount during this time is that we had all of our students have a Chromebook that they already checked out and took home every day. But Dan, Chris, what can you tell us about the process of moving rapidly to distance learning? We did it literally, almost overnight. What's the role of technology and what have we done well, what are we still working on, and what have we learned?

Chris Higle, Director of Technology Services:   1:36
Well, we already had a good, solid foundation in place with every student having access to the Chromebook and being familiar with digital learning tools. Technology plays a significant role in connecting students and families with their teachers. The main pieces we have in place and processes are working well. We have learned that supporting teachers and students outside the walls of the classroom is more challenging and unpredictable. There are many more variables out of our control, like quality of Internet access, or lack of, and everyone's schedules that we're working around. These were all elements in our control during a normal school year. An area we're still working on is streamlining technical support for distance learning and access to relevant information to support teachers and students.

Dan Pangrazio, Assistant Superintendent, Business Services:   2:20
We're extremely happy with our technology team, the work they've been doing to put plans in place and also to respond on a regular basis to the needs of the staff and our community.

Dr. Scott Siegel, Superintendent:   2:31
So one of the challenges I know that we face is making sure students have access to WiFi, and I believe we've deployed hot spots for parents and families to check out for WiFi access at home. I know I've used one myself the other day working from home. How do we know that families who need those resources are utilizing them, and how do we know that Ceres Unified School District students are connected to their teachers and the resources that are being shared? Do we know that those hot spots are being utilized when kids don't have access? 

Chris Higle, Director of Technology Services:   2:58
To solve that problem, we have shared information and continue sure information with our families through ParentSquare and our website on how families can get access to quality low-cost Internet access at home. This is usually the most robust option for supporting multiple devices in the home. We have also advertised availability of our mobile WiFi hot spots for students and, at this time, there are still some available, and they can be checked out at any of our schools in the district who are serving meal distributions to students.

Dr. Scott Siegel, Superintendent:   3:28
As I'm sure you've seen in the local and national media, it's essential that Internet access is strong enough in the home for students to be able to access their distance learning and to be able to engage in their lessons. We were very lucky to have the hot spots in place beforehand and then also have been able to really communicate with our families to get those out into the homes that are in need. So it sounds like the best thing someone can do if they don't have WiFi access at home or Internet access at home is to contact their school site either by phone or swinging by during the lunch period in order to make that contact and pick up a WiFi hot spot.

Dr. Scott Siegel, Superintendent:   4:08
A few of our families have reported that WiFi at home is slow, and family members are sharing limited resources on the WiFi, making it not work as well. Can you comment on that, perhaps?

Chris Higle, Director of Technology Services:   4:18
While there are many factors that can contribute to slow WiFi at home, it can depend on the number of devices connected all at one time. It can also depend on what the devices are accessing. For example, streaming video puts a heavy load on it. Other factors may include the time of day or available resources on the provider's network. It's a lot like traffic on the highways. Sometimes it's moving quickly, and sometimes it's really congested. Also having devices in closer proximity to the WiFi hot spot is recommended, along with placement of the hot spot. The hot spot should not be placed on metal objects or near microwaves, for example. Having a schedule for online access times for students may also be a good solution as well.

Dan Pangrazio, Assistant Superintendent, Business Services:   5:01
We do also have access to a mobile hot spot guide. It is on our Coronavirus Webpage, and if you go to the distance learning page, look for the Hotspots at Home button.

Dr. Scott Siegel, Superintendent:   5:13
Chris and Dan, one of our listeners, asked if students have to worry about getting their devices updated, and that leads into maybe a broader question, which is what are some considerations or advice you can share with our families to help students ensure that their technology is working as well as it can.

Chris Higle, Director of Technology Services:   5:29
As far as updating Chromebooks. this happens automatically so students don't need to worry about that from home. One of the reasons we adopted Chromebooks as our primary student device is because they are really easy to use and are very reliable, however on occasion, they do have glitches like many other pieces of technology. On our distance learning website,, we have posted in both English and Spanish guides on basic Chromebook troubleshooting to help students and families. We also have a technology help desk where a live person can be called for assistance with Chromebook and other technology resource issues..

Dan Pangrazio, Assistant Superintendent, Business Services:   6:02
I just wanted to add as well that if you are experiencing difficulty during this time of distance learning, it's essential that we solve those issues and that you reach out and contact us because we want our students to be able to access the lessons and not have any delay in their ability to complete the work or to be able to engage in the lessons that our teachers are working so hard to put out there for your children.

Dr. Scott Siegel, Superintendent:   6:28
Thank you. That's some helpful information for students and families that they can use to help make sure their Internet and their devices are working well. But what if a Chromebook actually breaks, mobile hotspot's not working at all, or needs some other kind of support that just isn't available online or easily available online? Is there any help available while schools are closed?

Chris Higle, Director of Technology Services:   6:49
For a broken Chromebook, or mobile hotspot that isn't working, these can be swapped out for working devices at any school during the meal distribution serving times. Staff on site will assist with checking in equipment that is not working and exchange it for working equipment. If further assistance is needed with these hardware pieces, we recommend calling our technology help line. For assistance with instructional resources, we recommend contacting the teacher or site staff first. For further guidance, they will reach out to technology staff to assist with troubleshooting issues, with digital curriculum resources, if assistance is needed.

Dr. Scott Siegel, Superintendent:   7:25
Great. So let's change the conversation to talk about student privacy. I know this topic is really gaining momentum out there right now, as more and more school districts go 1:World, rolling out Internet-enabled devices to students during the COVID-19 closures. So what is Ceres Unified doing to protect student data and keep students safe online when they're learning from home, and what can families do to help protect their students?

Chris Higle, Director of Technology Services:   7:49
Student privacy and security is a topic our team talks a lot about. Our goal is to strike a balance between access to great digital resource is for learning while safeguarding students' privacy and information when we do. This is through an extensive digital resource vetting process where privacy and security policies of products and services are reviewed through a dashboard rating system, and that system ranks these on a scale from either bad, so bad policies, bad security procedures, to good or great. In addition, our education technology team reviews how the resources will be used with students to determine if privacy law guidelines are being met and if the appropriate age range of student access exists.. Our district is also a member of the California Student Data Privacy Alliance, which is a consortium of districts who require paid service providers who interface with and use student data to also sign data privacy agreements ensuring they're protecting their privacy and security.

Dan Pangrazio, Assistant Superintendent, Business Services:   8:53
Some of the concerns in recent weeks have been about the Zoom digital meeting app in particular. There were several incidents, and I really think what happened was those were repeated over and over again in the media, although the ones that did occur were serious in nature. But Ceres Unified has now entered into a contract with Zoom to gain the full protections their company provides. We know that issues can occur with any app or platform, but we're very confident our students are safe, especially considering the protections that Zoom provides under that contract.

Dr. Scott Siegel, Superintendent:   9:26
Another question I know our families are very interested in is whether Chromebooks will have to be returned before summer.

Chris Higle, Director of Technology Services:   9:33
We're planning for both scenarios of either students turning them in at the end of the school year or keeping them over the summer. Details on what we plan to do will be provided in the Phase 4 of Distance Learning plan.

Dan Pangrazio, Assistant Superintendent, Business Services:   9:44
We're leaning towards students being able to keep their Chromebooks over the summer, and that would also include elementary school students. We do know that there is a benefit for them to be able to maintain access and also be able to do some potential learning that they're able to access through apps and so forth over this summer. We'll be making that announcement in the next few days. It will be important for students to take very good care of those devices over the summer. As always, as in this case, a device will also be there Chromebook that they'll be using in the following school year.

Dr. Scott Siegel, Superintendent:   10:17
That's fantastic, because I do believe that we will be providing parents and families and students with resources that they can access over the summer to continue learning in a remote setting. As we wrap up our episode today, is there anything else that's important for our listeners to know about technology and distance learning?

Chris Higle, Director of Technology Services:   10:35
The technology resources students have access to are wonderful and powerful tools to support their learning. I think it is important to remember that even though we hold student privacy in high regard and take multiple measures to filter out bad content, for example, and provide security, no technology measures are 100% perfect. We encourage families to engage with their students as often as possible to observe how their students are using the technology tools. Ask your students what they're doing, have conversations about what is appropriate and not appropriate while they're using their technology tools. Digital citizenship is another key aspect of their maturity journey.

Dan Pangrazio, Assistant Superintendent, Business Services:   11:13
I also wanted to take this opportunity to thank Chris Higle, our Director of Technology, for the work that he's doing and his leadership in this area, and to thank all of our employees who have done a tremendous job. Our focus is customer service. Our students and our families are our customers, and we want to try to help bridge the learning and what needs to happen for your children and use technology to help do that. We're collaborating with the other divisions within our school district to help make that happen. And if there's anything else that you need from us, please reach out. We're here to serve you and to serve your students.

Dr. Scott Siegel, Superintendent:   11:50
I want to thank you, Dan and Chris for being here to talk about technology in this time of distance learning. I am looking forward to possibly in a future episode having you come in and talk about what you see coming on the horizon in technology, other advances and innovations that may be coming our way for our students. I also want to thank our listeners for tuning in, and please remember to send your podcast questions to [email protected], and join us for Episode 4, Social Emotional Support While Schools Are Closed, with my guest, Jay Simmonds, and members of the Student Support team.