A month in: The trials of Nashville’s remote learning

I believe this is week four of Nashville in remote learning mode, maybe 37 for all I know at this point, and there have been troubles every single day, but we’ve gotten through them. Here’s a long list of the past month.

TL;DR – lot of problems, kids are learning in spite of however.

Nashville was not ready for remote learning. They’d made the investment but making 86,000 kids suddenly remote learners in a month and a half is an undertaking. They purchased laptops, hotspots, a virtual school platform, and that they got everything somewhat running still is astounding. The teachers supposedly had about three days to form a curriculum around the FLVS system and get things set up.

While Nashville was not ready, I’d say that neither were our vendor Florida Virtual Schools / Schoology / Globalprotect (possibly, not sure who was at fault on that one). But they did it anyway as the Metro Nashville area was in phase 2 (schools closed) of reopening/shutdown after a quick drawback from Phase 3 (schools could have been opened,) that saw a whole lotta Covid related deaths and hospitalizations in a month.

I don’t blame FLVS for not being ready – who’s ready to go from a state to multiple states in a couple of months. They have to have been slammed. I don’t actually blame anyone for not being ready for this. You throw thousands of people at a product, it’s going to break.

Week one had us on total edge. Two teachers who did things differently, three different apps, emails with PDF attachments that inside had links to web pages that contained links to Teams meetings, a platform that was straight up unable to deliver a couple of times, and the MNPS Globalprotect VPN simply refusing to connect or allow school issued laptops into the network, and we missed classes.

My second grader’s first assignments ended up taking her to scamware sites off of a “homework” link. basically real site using deceptive advertising. Advertising saying click here and choose your grade, next thing you know it’s verbally telling you how to install a browser extension to play back the amazing videos.

Teachers missed a couple of classes when Teams went down in North America. Classes missed or at least looked horrible when Centurylink went down. That one kid who’s laptop speakers are turned up so loud he causes feedback. An inability to hear school announcements because the 7 year olds discovered how to chat and bombarded everyone with pictures of hamsters.

A couple of days ago started MAP testing and it went about as smoothly as you’d expect – power outage at the school where many of the teachers are going to work because their internet at home is garbage knocked out some testing options. Both my kids managed to be unaffected.

The MAP testing we were told to not help out for anything other than technical issues. This has been a nonstop technical issue. My 5 year old does not read at the moment, yeah, I know… late bloomer. I asked the teacher what to do in that case and was told that each question was going to have the ability to read the question out loud as well as answers.

This was false. Oh, she wasn’t misleading intentionally, but several questions left out the “read to me because I’m 5” option. The only speaker icon on the screen was there for volume and speed. It seemed to mostly not be an option when the screen was nearly filled with text.

Other questions with shorter text had read to me options. Same with the answers. Different options seemed entirely dependent on whether the text at top was a certain length.

There was a notice that the MAP testing required a certain resolution. Yeah, taught my kindergartner how to use F11 on a school issued laptop because it straight up was not readable in standard. Also the MNPS issued laptop could not click the MAP link because EDGE is set as the default browser and it doesn’t work with EDGE… so got to cut and paste links and open in Chrome.

Unrelated goats are unrelated

During all of this the FLVS books we were supposed to have were not available. I went the day and time I was scheduled and was given a bag and told it was for both my kids. There was nothing of use in the bag. I came back the following Monday and had to explain that while I was given a bag and checked off my bag contained nothing of use regarding Florida Virtual Schools, and then I was given two bags that contained what they had.

That worked for the second grader, the kindergartner of course didn’t have what was needed. I went back for a third time and finally got what was needed.

Maggie’s first assignment was to cut out pages from the workbook we got on Try #2, place them in the correct order, create a mini comic book, staple it and flip through it. This would have been fine if the pages were printed in such a way that cutting them out worked – for example page 1 and half of page 5 were printed back to back, cutting one properly got some of either 7 or 3 mixed in. There was no way they could be assembled and read in order even if you flipped at the end.

The students are assigned homework. This is to get them to the 5ish hours that they’re supposed to do per day. This homework is not easy to find and involves hunting across about 8 places and sometimes it’s a find this in the book and do it and take a picture and upload it, sometimes it’s a quiz or form online, sometimes it’s record a video. But at no time is there a simple list of what they have to do and where to find it.

My kid’s been instructed to locate and post in a forum, open an app and take pictures of homework, save it somewhere, submit it using a different form, differentiate between a test and a random quiz based on the color of a box, quite a few other things I’m not quite sure my 7yo is supposed to have mastered.

My 5yo asked why we always watch the morning announcements on the 7yo’s laptop and I realized that it’s because the links page that each kid goes to is different and I can actually find the morning announcements on the 7yos computer and have no idea where it is on the other.

Throughout this I’ve been amazed that the kids are learning. Frustrated when we’re frustrated because it feels to my 7yo as though somehow she’s being blamed for tech problems (she’s not,) and expected to hunt through mounds of stuff to locate her homework (she is,) and expected to behave like an adult in a business situation because there’s no where to escape in our house during classes while mom and dad are teleworking.

Kids seem to have alternating tech issues so it’s a nonstop IT fiasco. It’s gotten so I’m scheduling my very few trips into the office around where class switching is because it causes so much chaos.

It’s not great. It’s frustrating. It’s got a long way to go to be better but it’s heading that way. I got to see my Kindergartner figure out two,too, and to in the most absurd way. My 7yo’s figured out chat rooms video conferencing and quite a bit of computer stuff. Digital divide is falling a bit from what I can see.

The only thing I really wish was we had a way to not be tech support and enforcers and they could be more kids during the day. But working from home means we’ve got to have no fighting, no screaming, etc.

It’s getting there… but man it’s been a haul.

Paul King

Paul King lives in Nashville Tennessee with his wife, two daughters and cats. He writes for Pocketables, theITBaby, and is an IT consultant along with doing tech support for a film production company.