Schenectady parents and students struggling with password resets, classroom logins and other technical aspects of remote learning now have a service to contact for help.
The district contracted with an outside vendor, the same company that provides the district’s student data management system, to establish a technology helpline service for students and families managing the daily challenges of virtual learning.
The shift to virtual learning for most of the district’s students has created new difficulties for students now heavily-reliant on functioning technology to participate in their classes.
“We certainly heard from teachers and other staff about the amount of time they were spending with students and being able to help them with tech,” interim Superintendent Aaron Bochniak said Tuesday. “We didn’t want that getting in the way of the time of their instruction and sometimes it was.”
The helpline, which is available weekdays from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., can be reached at 833-752-0734 or by email at [email protected].
Parents and students can also file an electronic request for help through an online portal accessible through the school district website.
“They can either call into a call center, send an email or go to an online chat form and have real-time text communication,” said Chris Pietrantonio, the district’s technology director. He said the people staffing the helpline are tied into the district’s network and able to help resolve specific problems.
The new helpline opened Nov. 16, garnering 93 requests for help between the start of the program and Thanksgiving break.
Pietrantonio said the three biggest technology issues that have arisen for students this year are a need to reset passwords, problems using the district’s Google and Seesaw online platforms and navigating the devices students are expected to work from. In some cases, the district needs to replace or repair broken devices.
He said most issues can be fixed within a matter of minutes. The company that manages the helpline with transfer problems involving computer hardware or curriculum to the district, which can step in to fix or replace a computer device as needed. Teachers and staff have a separate internal helpline they can use.
Some requests for technical help are still flowing through teachers and school principals, Pietrantonio said, but district officials are looking to encourage families to start with the new helpline.
The most common issues are localized with a single student but some broader technology disruptions have occurred throughout the year. Occasionally, the third-party platforms districts are using have connectivity problems. The Google classroom platform, for example, had intermittent connectivity throughout the region on Tuesday. Earlier this year, a storm caused massive power outages for students, teachers and district buildings. Bochniak said educators are always prepared with plans B, C, D and so on.
“Teachers are skilled with dealing with disruptions, that’s what we do all the time,” Bochniak said.
The district’s contract, which runs on a monthly basis, costs the district $2,955 per month, according to district spokesperson Karen Corona.
The district this week also instituted a new plan to have two days a month serve as afternoon planning sessions for teachers and school leaders. On those two days, the first of which was Tuesday, students still will be given independent work to spend the afternoon working on – rather than log in for online classes at a set time. The independent work will be in the afternoons, but students will still have morning classes as usual, whether in person or remote. Bochniak said the district would start with the two days in December – the second being Dec. 16 – and determine whether to continue it for future months.
While district officials have said they have a computer device for all students, they are still looking to replace some older devices, move students from personal computers to district computers, and replace some tablets used by middle-grade students with laptops.
“We have a device for anyone who has requested it,” Bochniak said, noting there have been delays in making contact with some families that requested devices.
Throughout the pandemic the district has deployed over 6,500 Chromebook laptops to students and over 2,000 tablet devices. The tablets fit better for younger students, because they do not come with keyboards or the capability to run multiple screens at the same time.
The district still has a major outstanding order of around 5,000 Chromebook laptops, which districts officials have been told should arrive later this month. Bochniak said the new order would be enough to get laptops to middle-grade students now using tablets, as well as students using their own personal computers.