Redundancy and the Value of An Articulated Plan B for Remote Learners

Across the country Monday, Zoom users–including courts, public schools, colleges, and businesses, were unable to connect to what has become a lifeline to their work. This is a wake up call to K-12 school districts, and planning for future disruptions is essential to any successful remote learning program. Like fire drills that take place at the start of the school year, responding to a widespread technology failure in a remote learning environment should be considered essential.

Now is the time to implement a district-wide Plan B, preparing for other inevitable disruptions to our new models for learning. We owe this to our teachers, our students, and the parents directly impacted, particularly when it takes place in their homes.

Without a “Plan B” teachers and students are left to their own devices (pun intended). A district scrambles to learn what is wrong; is it the student, the teacher, the internet, or–though unlikely–the corporate grade video conferencing service selected for mission critical work? Below are two immediate steps for school districts to consider as a “Plan B” which I have learned from my 20+ years experience as a technology leader in the K-12 arena.

First, there must be a clear set of expectations of what steps to take if a user cannot connect to a remote learning session, video-conference, or online class. Expectations should include a “three before me” strategy taught to students by every teacher and in every class. “Three before me” teaches students to work together to resolve a problem before contacting the teacher. Most challenges are resolved through student troubleshooting and collaboration, bringing valuable real world experience to young learners. If a technology problem cannot be resolved, as was the case with Monday’s Zoom outage, students can shift to the already articulated and practiced Plan B for the class. Such a plan may include an alternate assignment or a temporary shift to a secondary learning platform. As with a fire drill, students will know in advance where to meet in the event of a crisis.

A widely distributed and publicly posted chain of communications is another worthy implementation. This should provide stakeholders a place to turn for timely information related to any disruption in services. The plan can include sending stakeholders a notification of any disruption in service via multiple platforms including Remind, Twitter, email, and the district website. Such information must be concise, providing a brief description of the problem, who is impacted, and an expected timeline for resolution. If the duration of the outage is unknown, the communication should indicate when an update will be sent by the district. Finally, the communication should contain a link to the established protocol regarding expectations to minimize the interruption of student learning (see first paragraph, including “three before me”). For this to be effective, the parent and student contact information and communication preferences must be collected, verified, and ready to use early in the school year.

Monday’s Zoom outage was more than a disruption which was fixed within hours; it was a valuable heads-up to districts regarding their readiness for uninterrupted remote learning. The impact of the disruption was significant to hundreds of thousands of learners who were just starting the school year, and the residual effect on children and teachers should not be underestimated. We are asking teachers to take risks and embrace remote learning, and they are very much on the front lines when there are disruptions, over which they often have no control. Now is the time to implement a district-wide Plan B, preparing for other inevitable disruptions to our new models for learning. We owe this to our teachers, our students, and the parents directly impacted, particularly when it takes place in their homes.

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