Learning from a distance no small feat

TAPS’ tech department had their hands full getting schools ready for a new way of learning

By Per Peterson

Aside from some small hiccups, distance learning seems to be moving right along.

One speed bump last week was with the learning platform known as Schoology — an online learning platform utilized by many schools. Last week, the system was overloaded when distance learning kicked in.

TAPS Technology Coordinator Craig Polkow said last Monday was quite an experience when his content filtering for Chromebooks became immediately overloaded; it was rebuilt about 9 a.m. that morning and he hasn’t noticed a problem with it since. Then came the Schoology issue that lasted until about noon.

“Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do about that as we purchase  it as a cloud-  based solution,” Polkow said. “We still have some small hiccups with the platform. They put out a post on March 31 saying that their usage in the past few days has seen nearly a 400% increase and the steps they are doing to mitigate this.”

“I thought our staff and students handled this situation great,” said Katie Gervais, technology integrationist with Tracy Area Public Schools. “There wasn’t anything we could do about it on our end but go with the flow.  Once the word spread that it wasn’t an issue with (the students’) computers and it was a statewide issue I think that helped ease a little of the initial panic.”

After Schoology crashed, thus kicking students out of their servers, the network issued a statement letting schools know it was aware that some users experienced “degraded service when accessing Schoology. Our engineers are monitoring and actively working to resolve this. Some users are experiencing intermittent load errors. This incident is still active and we are investigating and will provide updates as they come.”

Still, Gervais said things have been going well otherwise. One issue she foresees is the quality of Internet that some families have. If there are a few students on Zoom, parents working and possibly a streaming service for TV all going at the same time in the same household, there may be some loss of speed and quality of streaming, she said.

“In order to combat this, our teachers sign up for one-half hour Zoom slots so that there shouldn’t be a time that students are on at the same time,” said Gervais. “This helps to alleviate some of the stress on the Internet.  Most of our teachers also tape any Zoom meetings they have and post them for students to view at a later time in case they were unable to make it to the Zoom meeting. This again allows for families to complete their distance learning in a time frame that works for their family.”

Distance learning began on March 30, a result of the closing of all schools because of the coronavirus outbreak. That meant all schools had to adjust on the go and prepare for an unknown amount of time for distance learning.

See this week’s Headlight Herald for more on this article.