Delivering effective online teaching tools for public educators

February 16, 2021
Communications Practice

When shelter-in-place orders were given earlier this year, public schools were among the many organizations forced to adapt to the “new normal” quickly. One particular school district in Ohio was no exception. The district in question serves nearly 50,000 students, employs a staff of 8,500 teachers and administrators, and operates dozens of educational facilities, including elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as career technical schools.

Shifting each of these several components to a remote education framework was a daunting task, but the district had the skilled employees and partner necessary to pull it off.

Working closely with district personnel on a tight deadline, CBTS assisted in the design, planning, and launch of a suite of improved remote conferencing and collaboration tools for use by teachers, students, and administrators. Initially, the district’s remote conferencing system included around 100 users. Throughout the course of the new system’s deployment process, 10,000 new users were integrated. After the new capabilities were brought online, the total number of remote education and collaboration sessions exceeded 7,600 in April, compared to a high of 802 in March.

Learn how Webex enables virtual teaching and learning for primary education schools and improves administrative efficiency.

Defining the challenge

Early on in the process of modernizing the district’s online teaching tools, the academic community of the district sought a partner to ensure it had the network infrastructure, applications, and policies it needed to continue lessons throughout the pandemic. There was a wide variety of use cases to consider: teachers needed to be able to lead virtual classrooms with their students, students needed the capability to meet privately with instructors, administrators needed reliable contact with staff, and teachers and counselors needed to be able to reach students and their families at home.

Educators and IT specialists in the district were concerned that traditional collaboration platforms lacked the connection strength and security they were looking for. For example, Zoom sessions could be searched and accessed by uninvited participants. The district also hoped to give administrators and teachers the online teaching tools, such as Cisco Webex, that they needed to intuitively manage their classrooms while keeping education sessions secure.

Finding the solution

CBTS stepped in as not only a subject matter expert but as a partner dedicated to equipping the district with the right knowledge and capabilities to allow the 2019-2020 school year to continue with minimal disruption.

An extensive consultation process was initiated, during which CBTS worked closely with educators and administrators to define and plan for the multiple critical use cases the district needed to be addressed, from virtual classrooms to secure single sign-on and active directory integration for all employees and students. District personnel led the discussion around what they needed and how they needed it to be implemented.

Providing the online teaching tools was only a part of the equation, however. The district had little in the way of official policy guiding the proper use of these virtual collaboration applications. CBTS made specialized best practices training available for thousands of teachers in the district to acclimate them to remote teaching and prepare them to make the most use of their updated network and new conferencing programs.

When the strategy was decided on and district staff had been trained, deployment was executed on a very short timeframe, with a large number of new users requiring registration in the district’s active directory system. These directories were also updated to account for the substantial increase in student users of the system that would also need to be integrated into the single sign-on process.

These steps helped the district transition to fully-online instruction, with a record-high number of virtual sessions and meeting minutes being recorded in April. The district and its partners at CBTS are considering the implementation of virtual parent-teacher association meetings in the future as well.

Members of the local teacher’s union and IT administrators working at the schools themselves played a significant role in pushing for updates to the district’s remote education capabilities, seeking the expertise of CBTS to help make it happen.

Contact CBTS for more information on secure remote collaboration tools, training, and deployment support.

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