Connected Learning

From sounding out the alphabet to finishing college, from education evangelists to systems specialists, learn all about the world of remote learning. Experts weigh in on where we go from here to support successful remote and online learning at all levels of education.

PODCAST | 20m
S1:Ep4
June 10, 2020

Executive summary

  • Preparing teachers and students for a remote world at every stage of education
  • Enabling teachers with the right technology to properly teach in hybrid models
  • Supporting successful remote and online learning at all levels of education

Melanie Green (Host):

Have you ever been in an online meeting where it's just been an uphill battle to keep everyone's attention? Try putting yourself in Ben Cogswell’s shoes.

Ben Cogswell:

I'm sure many of us have been at a virtual meeting at some point now, but if you can only imagine 18 five-year-olds in a Zoom, right?

Melanie Green (Host):

Ben is a kindergarten teacher who, like educators around the world, had to make a complete transition to teaching online when the pandemic hit. He's become a master at keeping his audience engaged. You know what it's like when you're running a meeting and there's someone who's obviously checked out and probably shopping on Amazon? Well, try managing something like this.

Ben Cogswell:

One of my students, he's just a bundle of energy and he's sitting there running around his room, jumping on his bed. And I did have to let him know, just like I would in the classroom, "Sorry, buddy. I'm going to have to call your mom. I really need you to sit down and learn. This is really important and I know once you get going, you enjoy it, but I need you to make sure you're focusing on your learning right now, because it's really important."

Melanie Green (Host):

Wouldn't that be nice, if the next time you were in a meeting and someone wasn't paying attention, you could just say, "Hey, I see you surfing Amazon. I'm calling your mom." If only.

My name is Melanie Green. You're listening to Remote Works, an original podcast by Citrix. This week, a look at working and learning in remote and online education.

Ben Cogswell:
Oh, it looks like everybody wants to join.

Ben’s youngest son:
Yeah, everyone wants to join.

Ben’s older son:
I didn't necessarily want to, but mom-

Ben Cogswell:

Right now. All right, hold on one second. Guys can... Sunny, can you go get my earbuds from, by my bedside table, please? No, those are different ones. Sorry. They're plugged into my iPad.

Melanie Green (Host):

Ben Cogswell is a kindergarten teacher at Barton Elementary School in Salinas, California. Ben lives in Salinas with his wife and four children.

Ben Cogswell:

Hey, remember guys, we've got have still bodies because we're recording the sound and if we have a lot of motions and squeaks, then the sound is not going to be as good.

Ben’s younger son: Okay.

Ben Cogswell: All right?

Melanie Green (Host):

Ben got interested in the potential of technology and teaching a few years ago when his school district handed out iPads to every student. Ben helped students get the most out of the tablets. Now, along with teaching kindergarten, Ben coaches other teachers, and how best to bring technology into the classroom. So the weekend after his district sent kids home to learn during the pandemic, Ben was ready. He created a class Facebook page and YouTube channel where he posted daily morning messages.

Ben Cogswell’s Kinder Rockets video:

And so with that Kinderockets, I hope you have a great day. Happy Monday, happy days of the week. And I'll see you later.

Melanie Green (Host):
How does a kindergarten teacher use tech effectively?

Ben Cogswell:

I really had to think about, I have 45 minutes with these kids, they're on the other side of the screen, and how do I really engage them? So I'm really having to develop more strategies, and I'm having to be more precise, and I'm having to be very specific and really thoughtful of my content because I don't have them all day and I have this one lesson. And so that has made me grow as a teacher and being reflective.

Melanie Green (Host):

Ben's learned a lot about teaching kindergarten kids online over the past few months, he's figured out the four rules that can help engage young minds, and that can help us all as we navigate remote working. Number one, keep your remote meetings to a manageable size. Ben divides his class of five year olds into two groups and runs activities for one group in the morning, one in the afternoon.

Ben Cogswell:
Usually I have 28 students. So anywhere between my... My groups are anywhere from about nine to 18.

Melanie Green (Host):
Rule number two, take advantage of the benefits of going digital.

Ben Cogswell:

For example, we're going to do a writing activity and so the kids would be engaged with writing like a normal traditional kindergarten writing activity where they're writing in pencil, we're doing it together. We're going through the sounds, we're going through the letters, but where technology really can take that is now, the kids are having to read it to a device. Well, hmm, that doesn't sound like it really helps that much, but it does, because if you really think about it, okay, they just wrote this thing and they're in kindergarten, they're having trouble reading it. And so if they maybe read it to just their peer, maybe sometimes they do great, sometimes they don't, but when all of a sudden they're having to record their reading, it really shifts it a lot for these students. Now they can record multiple times. They can practice multiple times. They really want to be aware of what they're doing and do their best.

Melanie Green (Host):

Rule number three, keep lines of communication open with upper management or in Ben's case parents.

Ben Cogswell:

Overall, I would say my retention is fairly good, but it's taken a lot of daily communication with parents. It's taken a lot and it hasn't been easy.

Melanie Green (Host):
Rule number four, tap into each other's experiences and emotions to forge a powerful connection.

Ben Cogswell:

I did another fun activity for Mother's Day, where I gave them some different pictures of places that they could go like the spa, Disneyland, and narrate it and just hearing those cute videos where the kids are in this picture with their mom and describing how they want to treat their mom at Disneyland. And some of them were in English and some of them are in Spanish. And I don't think it would have been as precious if I was in the classroom listening to those, but because I'm not just listening to those videos, it really, it just gives me goosebumps. And it's just amazing. I love seeing their family activities and family involvement in those things.

Melanie Green (Host):

By applying these rules, Ben has done what many have thought impossible, successfully engage a group of five-year-old students online.

Melanie Green (Host):

While Ben Cogswell has become adept at working with the students online, many in the education system have yet to discover the potential of digital learning in the classroom and beyond. That's where Amy Valentine comes in. Amy is the Chief Executive Officer of Future of School, a national non-profit focused on educating teachers and students about the impact of technology on their lives. Amy calls herself an education evangelist, not only has she dedicated her life to exploring the applications of digital technology and education, she's a mom. And right now she's seeing her son realize the potential of online learning.

Amy Valentine:

So I'd like to share a brief story about my son. He's in the sixth grade, he is at a local charter school and they had access to technology in the school, but they definitely were not prepared from a training perspective for the switch to crisis schooling and remote learning. He is very much a visual learner and he's also very tech savvy, but the shift and the change was challenging for him because it was so different from what he was used to.

And in History, his teacher was on the immigration unit, and the assignment she assigned to them was to do a reading in their book, around your ancestors, and then to interview a family member about your heritage and when did your ancestors come to the United States, and to document that process, to add any details you wanted, and my son did his research, did his reading, decided to call his grandfather whose parents came from Italy, had an amazing conversation with him, and took really copious notes. We're talking about a kid who normally doesn't take copious notes. And out of that experience, my son said that that was a favorite assignment that he did since he left school, since he left the brick and mortar building. And his teacher, when I sent her the pictures it brought tears to her eyes to see her students so engaged in the assignment she gave them.

That's one where technology is the conduit, but the was the phone. The book was online, but it's really about coming up with creative ways to get kids engaged in content that's personalized, where it's applicable to them, and they can express their own passions about what they're learning, and reading, and hearing and put their own summary because they have a connection to it. And I think that's where the future of school is heading, is differentiated instruction, student-centered learning, personalized instruction. That's where technology is a great advantage.

Melanie Green (Host):

And now more than ever, educators need to understand what kind of world their students are graduating into, an online world.

Amy Valentine:

There's a fair amount of reports out there that talk about the challenge that business owners and business leaders have had for the last 10, 20 years in identifying a ready workforce, because society has changed and evolved in these very deep technological ways, but when we look at our traditional schools, they've existed in a very similar way that they have for the past few hundreds of years. So as society has been evolving, and growing, and being catalyzed by technology, high school graduates are graduating with the same skills that they've had. So it's common knowledge that there's been a disconnect between the needs of the workforce and the skills that kids graduate from high school with, and sometimes from college, because so much is learned on the job. The jobs of the... It's very hard to forecast what the jobs of the future are going to be, especially now.

Melanie Green (Host):

While we can't forecast what the jobs of the future are going to be the last few months have proven the need to think differently and enable people to work and learn remotely moving forward.

Amy Valentine:

The biggest takeaway to me of COVID-19 and of this very unfortunate pandemic that we're facing right now, is the hidden flame that's burning in people's minds and burning deep within them around, maybe there is a better way. Maybe there is a different way. Maybe we can reimagine what education and school looks like because at the end of the day, it's our duty and it's our challenge to figure out, how can we support kids? How can we support teachers? So never before has the role of a teacher been ever

more better understood, or more visible, more relevant, more pertinent, and when we look at the future forward thinking role that technology plays in schools, teachers are the driver of it.

Melanie Green (Host):

For Amy Valentine, it's vitally important that elementary and secondary education offer students better ways to access and understand technology. It's about being equipped for the future, and as students move into the future, into college and university, it becomes even more clear that engaging in online learning can be a huge asset. In the post-secondary world, remote learning and working has been taking root for a while. Over 600 American universities have online degree programs. That's up from just 50 in 2014. The growth has been explosive and that made it easier for students and employees in some universities, not only to prepare for the future, but to adapt to game-changing crises. For that, we can thank people like Greg Theisen. Greg is the Chief Information and Technology Officer at Post University in Waterbury, Connecticut.

Greg Theisen:

I was brought in two and a half, three years ago to do a complete technology overhaul and transformation for the school, which was very timely. Coming into a pandemic, we had a pretty good infrastructure in place to meet the challenge of the new normal.

Melanie Green (Host):

Post University had been thinking about evolving work styles and have been working to build their technology infrastructure to match new ways of working over the past few years.

Greg Theisen:

From a technology perspective, people's style, and behavior, and desire to work from home and other locations, we're seeing that more and more. The traditional workspace has been changing. So all of these things came into play as we were picking technology solutions and enabling that.

Melanie Green (Host):
Their technology had to be updated to match these changing work models.

Greg Theisen:

Previously, we had traditional desktop equipment connected to our network. It was becoming antiquated. It was time to refresh or come up with a new solution.

Melanie Green (Host):

Greg and his team explored a virtual desktops to give employees the app and desktop experience they need to succeed.

Greg Theisen:

So the virtual desktop environment from Citrix, basically the applications, the desktop, are in a hard data center up in Boston and accessed from anywhere. So we have a virtualized terminal, makes it very easy for us to deploy new applications.

Melanie Green (Host):

So Post University had the infrastructure in place to transition when the pandemic hit.

Jeff Olson:

My name is Jeff Olson. I'm the Vice President of student experience at Post University. So we went from 50 remote workers to, if you include faculty, almost 1,200.

Melanie Green (Host):

From 50 remote workers to more than 1,000 is impressive, but here's the kicker, Greg, Jeff, and their teams managed the transition in just four days.

Greg Theisen:

When this situation arose, it was fairly seamless for us to transition those folks. They just took their terminals with them, a 50 foot ethernet cord, headphones, and we were able to make that transition fairly quickly within just a few days.

Jeff Olson:

The technology made it easy, but then we had to keep talking through, even though there were lots of people working from home, this version of working from home is still different because they're now working from home with their children in the house, or their spouse working at the same spot, or new added stress, and pressure, and chaos around them. So we developed a whole bunch of resources, distilling them down from all of the things that are out there, and creating a consumable package for our leaders, as well as our associates, to help ease them through that entire transition, while easing them through this pandemic and the technology being the glue that pulled that all together.

Melanie Green (Host):

Connectedness doesn't come from physical proximity. That may be the most important lesson we've learned from adapting to the pandemic.

Jeff Olson:

I think we've really keyed in on what makes a connection authentic and the physical presence, although that enables it quite easily, isn't always the end all be all to being connected to another human and we're really experiencing it through this pandemic. So the future very much will, in my opinion, be different because we're going to focus on how we connect to other human beings, to that empathy piece, and to that whole building a team piece. And it's not taking for granted the physical proximity. It's something else. It's that effort, and energy, and communication that you bring to the table that truly builds that connectedness that people seek.

Melanie Green (Host):

So Post University was more prepared to transition to remote working and learning when the shelter in place went into effect, but not everyone's experience is the same. Allow me to introduce you to...

Bill Stegner:

Hi, I'm Bill Stegner. I am the Virtual Systems Specialist at Butler County Community College located in Butler, Pennsylvania.

Melanie Green (Host):

Bill Stegner had a couple of big challenges to deal with. Pre-pandemic, only about 5% of the colleges classes were online. And then back in February...

Bill Stegner:

Around February 16th, we got hit with ransomware, brought down and targeted our databases and anything with large amounts of data, or file shares, anything that was pertinent to running the operation. Luckily, we have a backup solution and we were able to restore everything back to normal in about a day and a half, we worked over 24 hours. There was a bunch of us that worked over 24 hours to get that back up. And we were able to successfully recover 99% of the environment.

Melanie Green (Host):

On the heels of dealing with their ransomware attack, Butler, like campuses around the world, got the news that they had to move all classes off campus.

Bill Stegner:

So within like three days, the decision was made. We're going to go all in, get the semester finished, and put everything to online learning. I would say the biggest challenge was of course, teaching people how to use all these new technologies that they're not used to.

Melanie Green (Host):

To Bill's credit and the entire team that worked around the clock, they did it. Butler County Community College went online.

Bill Stegner:

It was pretty remarkable. We had it up and students came back from spring break and they were able to do all their work and finish up their classes, which ended the first week of May.

Melanie Green (Host):

Despite the tight timelines, Butler has been able to provide a great educational experience through their digital workspaces.

Bill Stegner:

For students, we deploy three desktops, there's a vanilla Windows 10 desktop that has just basic Office and every day software that they use to complete their schoolwork. We also deploy a CAD desktop that has Nvidia grid cards attached to it and it has Autodesk, a master cam, and Solid Works on it. They can sit at their home, they can sit at Sheets and remote in and do their schoolwork without any hiccups.

Melanie Green (Host):
And the biggest surprise for Bill, in the quick shift to online learning?

Bill Stegner:

The biggest surprise was the ability for people to adapt. I mean, we had to transition from 5% to 100% online activity within a week and a half, and it all came together. I didn't get any word back to me that

there was any huge hiccups other than people losing internet connectivity or something like that. But that's good news because typically, in the IT field, if you don't hear from anybody everything's working fine.

Melanie Green (Host):

So what have the teachers learned from this experience? Well, scholars who study education and technology have been watching this singular event unfold and trying to figure out how it will impact remote learning going forward.

Tony Bates:

My name is Tony Bates and technically I'm retired, but I'm also a part time senior advisor at the Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University. And I'm also a research associate for Contact North.

Melanie Green (Host):
Tony Bates is based in Vancouver.

Tony Bates:

What I would say is that this has been a huge learning experience for faculty and instructors. I think that some of them would have moved online and found it worked tremendously well for them. Others will have found it a total disaster, but I suspect the majority are in somewhere in the middle where they've learned that some things work very well and other things don't.

Melanie Green (Host):

And beyond the tech, Tony Bates thinks that we need to train and develop the teachers and faculty who will be the face and voice of education.

Tony Bates:

Well, I think the priority should be faculty development. If we want students coming out with the knowledge and skills that they require to boost the economy in a digital world, then we need to train our faculties. It's a human resource development issue here.

Melanie Green (Host):

For students, Tony Bates sees many benefits of remote learning, including its potential to develop more sophisticated and soft skills to prepare students for the real world.

Tony Bates:

I think the big challenge is that we need to focus much more specifically on developing skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking, good communication skills, not just written skills, but oral skills, working good communication skills digitally for instance, not just because business needs that, but because individuals need that.

Melanie Green (Host):

From sounding out the alphabet to finishing college, from education evangelists to system specialists, we've been schooled in remote learning. As the education world changes, just like the world of business,

the more we talk about it and share our experiences, the more we learn from each other, I can just imagine that there was one listener with headphones on jumping on the bed.

Ben Cogswell:
Sorry, buddy. I'm going to have to call your mom. You know, I really need you to sit down and learn.

Melanie Green (Host):

Don't worry. I'm not going to call your mom. We're all friends here. I'm Melanie Green. You've been listening to Remote Works - an original podcast by Citrix. We'll be back next week with an episode with the San Francisco 49ers. Find out how ace defensive lineman Arik Armstead is working, and working out remotely, getting ready for the new season. For more best practices, lessons learned, and the realities of supporting and enabling a remote workforce, visit citrix.com/remoteworks. Back with more next week.

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