Fairfax County issues illustrate benefit of purpose-built, managed K-12 platforms

Fairfax County’s challenges trying to get Blackboard, and then Google, to work at scale for online learning underscore the need in K-12 for dedicated systems like Edsby.

Fairfax County Public Schools, a 190,000-student district in Virginia, transitioned to Google’s G Suite for Education applications after a high profile failure trying to use Blackboard for distance learning earlier this year.

Yet a new investigation by the Washington Post has found serious shortcomings with Google, including students being subjected to virtual harassment and parents distraught to find that teachers could not see nor stop the messages.

Educators have been unable to control or turn off the chat function of the Google learning platform, where students have been able to communicate with each other using fictional, and in many cases, intentionally offensive names.

“At this time, Fairfax County Public Schools is not able to restrict students’ access to Google Chat,” wrote district officials. Harassed students “should ignore individual and group chat requests.”

Features to encourage authentic communication

Unlike Google, platforms like Edsby offer similar chat functionality in visible classes and groups, allowing teachers to oversee student messaging and activity. Further, in Edsby, any user can easily report an inappropriate message by flagging it as such; flagged messages are reviewed by school or district admins.

Because Edsby connects to districts’ official systems, including authentication, all communications in a closed, managed Edsby system are with students’ real names. Every student becomes accountable for their words and online actions and learns valuable digital citizenship lessons.

Fairfax students have been able to evade teacher management in Google Classroom and other Google products by creating documents or slides and filling them with inappropriate language and images, including “racist and homophobic language,” according to images sent to The Post. Such content was shared with other students, including hateful messages to bullied students.

“Basically kids have zero issue getting content from the open Internet into fcpsschools.net and back out. Kids are running circles around administrators,” said one Fairfax parent, according to the Post.

A common tactic on G Suite involves confining inflammatory exchanges to the comments section of documents or slides, which not all teachers know to check, wrote the Post.

A richer environment in platforms like Edsby for learning

Designed as a K-12 purpose-built learning platform, Edsby keeps all exchanges accountable and auditable. Most Edsby customers disable student-to-student communication inside Edsby because of concerns for what students will exchange among themselves given the opportunity. In Edsby, interactions between teachers, students, and even parents become more school-appropriate.

Compare Google G Suite for Education to purpose-built platforms like Edsby.

Parent involvement

In Google, parents are expected to share their child’s account, and/or subscribe to emailed daily/weekly digest updates. When a teacher feels it’s warranted to contact a student’s parents, Google expects teachers to email parents. Parent distribution lists are expected to be maintained by individual teachers or facilitated with a new Guardian Summary feature.

In Edsby, parents are associated with each child and are pre-loaded for teachers from the district’s official records. Parents get their own unique accounts in Edsby associated with their children’s accounts. Parents see:

  • Homework
  • Class news, school news, district news
  • Attendance records of their children
  • Clubs and teams their children belong to and all relevant discussions and schedules
  • Upcoming field trips
  • Assessment information as shared by teachers

Parents can also belong to groups, book parent-teacher interviews or respond to online permission forms. Edsby manages access rights for parents, as parents come and go in the district or region’s master systems or if their access rights to specific children’s info changes over time. Teachers don’t have to update this data themselves.

Parent are able to see their childrens’ work throughout the year and provide additional support at home. There are no surprises at report card time as parents and students are kept abreast on a regular basis.

Email

In G Suite for Education, standard Gmail means teachers need to manage class and individual distribution lists. Communication is wide open to anyone the teacher would like to email in the wider world, undesirable to many K-12 organizations. Everyone needs email addresses, which is undesirable for students in younger grades.

In Edsby, messaging is possible between stakeholders. For compliance reasons, only parents with access to records are able to participate. Teachers do not need to manage distribution lists in Edsby. Edsby manages lists for them, including parents, and only authenticated stakeholders are allowed into the platform. Edsby intentionally does not allow emailing with the outside world beyond the closed Edsby system.

Classroom management

G Suite for Education doesn’t let teachers take attendance or view attendance records from a school or region’s official systems.

Edsby’s extensive classroom management features include a full attendance-taking and workflow system which writes to the official systems of record. Planned absences can be reported in advance by group, team and or class. If a district or region chooses to use its SIS for attendance taking, Edsby shares this data so parents are immediately informed of lateness or absences. Other classroom management features like seating plans and graphical views of student achievement are available.

Regional, district and local school news

News handling is not a function of G Suite for Education. Students need to check school/district websites and listen to announcements or receive announcements through a separate system.

Edsby has a full workflow for authoring, approval and distribution of official announcements. It pools news from the school, district and/or region for each stakeholder. Parents also get the news. If they have children at different schools, their streams are merged so the parent sees all relevant news for all schools.

Online testing

Google Classroom has self-grading quizzes (short answer, multiple choice, true/false) using Google Forms. Google supports rubrics for assessments only with a cumbersome add-on requiring each teacher using them to perform a number of steps to configure.

In Edsby, teachers can create and re-use tests and quizzes and share them among themselves and their district or region. Assessments can use local or regional standards, expectations or outcomes. Grades automatically appear in the Edsby gradebook, can be tied to learning goals and used as the basis of the district or region’s official report cards. Edsby has built-in support for rubrics and rubric-based grading.

Calendars

In Google Classroom, each class has an associated calendar available to the teacher and their students.

In Edsby, each stakeholder (teacher, student, parent, administrator) has a main calendar which amalgamates entries from all calendars of each class, school, club or team events. Edsby even reflects the unique day cycles of K-12 schools so students and parents know to bring the right clothes for gym class or football practice on the right days.

Electronic portfolios

Google does not offer an electronic portfolio of students’ best work.

Edsby has a well designed ePortfolio which accepts tags, standards, expectations, outcomes and comments. Students can add their own work. For younger students, teachers may add on their behalf. This is a way to share work progression throughout the student’s learning journey. Parents have access to the portfolios of their children.

Report cards

Google has no interface for official report cards nor the capacity to create them.

Edsby can either show report card information from the official systems of record or serve as the system for teachers to create them and submit them to the office for approval, where they can be printed and/or shared safely with students and parents electronically.

Analytics

Google Classroom allows the sharing of spreadsheet summaries from teacher to teacher. No learning analytics features are offered. Google Analytics, Google’s well-known service for analyzing website traffic, does not yield insights into learner progress and academic performance.

Edsby’s purpose-built learning analytics dashboard for K-12 principals helps find students at risk in realtime data, attendance issues, performance warnings, academic performance by subject and grade. Regional pre-built and custom dashboards give district or state/provincial administrators the ability to drill down at regional levels to uncover areas needing additional support to ensure student success.

Cost

Google’s G Suite for Education is free.

Edsby has one-time and annual costs associated with it. Contact us for details.

No substitute for a purpose-built K-12 environment

A platform dedicated to K-12 districts’ digital transformation for all stakeholders in a child’s education, Edsby offers so many more tools, manageability, and resources for students to succeed in the increasingly online world of K-12 learning. As Fairfax County has learned, shortcomings of Google G Suite for Education make it a risky selection.

Contact us for more information about Edsby

Edsby is amazing.
Deborah McLean, Teacher / Algoma District School Board