It didn’t take long for Manteca Unified educators to realize students can learn a little bit too much about their classmates while attending class online.
Video conferencing platforms didn’t just catch the images of students but everything that fell within the camera’s range.
It sometimes meant — especially at the high school level — inappropriate images of dirty clothes strung out across a bedroom, inappropriate posters, and even a bikini bottom hanging from a wall in the background as a student participated in virtual classroom discussions.
Then there were concerns of people going overboard to make sure their child was seated in front of displays of fine china in the formal living room that would contrast sharply with students taking class from the kitchen in a household that was significantly less well off.
Clara Schmiedt, the Manteca Unified senior director of secondary education, said educators early on discovered the existence of distractions, inappropriate backgrounds. as well as clashing socio-economic differences on full display on screens that distracted from lessons.
And while Manteca Unified along with other schools had to scramble to shift quickly last spring to distance learning due to COVID-19 stay at home orders, when school starts on Aug. 6 with a remote learning model not only will be lessons be much more muscular but the district will have a better handle on the technology.
They have switched to Microsoft video conferencing software that places images of the heads and upper bodies of students into a virtual classroom with assigned seats.
That is especially critical given teachers will not have met many of their students when school starts.
Those seat assignments will be replicated in the classroom when students are allowed to return to campus when COVID-19 conditions can be addressed reasonably with social distancing and other measures.
“It will help teachers learn the name of students,” District Superintendent Clark Burke noted.
Manteca Unified has not experienced issues many districts have that include not having adequate number of devices for all students to Internet and supporting tech being put under strain by the sudden shift of all students to online learning.
Nor has Manteca Unified experienced hacking into online classrooms and glitches that come with using outside vendors such as Zoom.
A lot of that has to do with the decision by Manteca Unified five years to take a $30 million plunge into laying the groundwork for the 21st century classroom from kindergarten through 12th grade with the Going Digital initiative. Subsequent boards have kept refreshing not just the devices but the system’s backbone as well.
The effort put devices into the hands of all 24,000 students at one time. And while those initial devices weren’t the most overall effective and durable prompting the district to migrate to better devices as they were replaced, the big difference with the Going Digital initiative was how robust the district made the system’s backbone that had built in additional capacity.
The closed system allows not only educators to tailor curriculum but the district’s tech support staff has a better handle on issues such as viruses, hacking, and troubleshooting.
The district over the years has made adjustments to address snafus and to get a handle on maintenance issues to the point they have figured out the number of extra devices they need on hand that should one assigned to a student go on the fritz they can promptly replace it with another while it is being repaired.
To make sure the challenges posed by the need to start off the coming year with remote learning are met the district is securing more hot spots and devices with hotspots that will be issued to homeless students who struggle to access the Internet.
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