Tech trou­bles com­pli­cate be­gin­ning of school year for many re­mote learn­ers

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY CLARE PROCTOR, STAFF RE­PORTER cproc­tor@sun­times.com | @ce­proc­tor23

A half-hour be­fore his class be­gan Mon­day morn­ing at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Chicago, Joe En­gle­man no­ticed prob­lems when he tried con­nect­ing with his stu­dents on Zoom.

En­gle­man, a 28-year-old grad­u­ate teach­ing as­sis­tant, then sug­gested the class try meet­ing on Black­board Con­nect.

But min­utes later, that learn­ing man­age­ment sys­tem shut out En­gle­man too. Be­cause he was un­able to hold class, En­gle­man had to de­lay for­mal in­struc­tion un­til Wed­nes­day.

As UIC, other uni­ver­si­ties and many subur­ban schools marked the first day of the school year Mon­day with mostly on­line classes, many stu­dents and teach­ers dealt with sim­i­lar chal­lenges due to tech­ni­cal glitches with Black­board and Zoom’s par­tial out­ages across the coun­try be­tween about 8 a.m. and noon.

“One of the most chal­leng­ing things is that folks are ready to get started to­day,” said En­gle­man, of Noble Square. “It’s like we’re build­ing the plane midair, how we think about what col­lege is look­ing like.”

Scott Grunow, an English in­struc­tor at UIC, got shut out of Black­board be­tween his two morn­ing classes. He was able to log back in just 10 min­utes be­fore his sec­ond class and teach. Still, it was an ex­am­ple of the “gen­eral dis­rup­tive­ness” of try­ing to teach and learn dur­ing a pan­demic, said Grunow.

“Some of them [fresh­man], this is their first col­lege class ever,” Grunow said. “It’s ex­tremely dis­con­cert­ing.”

Kristi Leach’s pro­fes­sor at UIC post­poned the first day of on­line classes be­cause of is­sues with Black­board. Leach, of Avon­dale, won­dered how the makeup class would fit into her sched­ule.

“I imag­ine the sched­ule I laid out for my­self for the week is go­ing to have to change,” said Leach, a 41-year-old un­der­grad­u­ate ma­jor­ing in so­ci­ol­ogy.

In some subur­ban school dis­tricts, like Glen­brook High School District 225, stu­dents were asked to par­tic­i­pate in class via Google Meet when of­fi­cials re­al­ized Zoom wasn’t work­ing, said R.J. Gravel, as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent for business ser­vices.

Classes were shifted to Google Meet or BigBlueBut­ton be­fore first pe­riod at the Skokie-based Niles Town­ship High School District 219, said district spokesman Jim Szczepa­niak.

“Like it or not, ev­ery­one is re­al­iz­ing we have to be flex­i­ble,” Szczepa­niak said. “Things are go­ing to be chang­ing all the time. How do we deal with that and keep our stu­dents en­gaged?”

But while many strug­gled with Zoom on Mon­day, some had no prob­lem log­ging on to the app. At north­west subur­ban Town­ship High School District 211, ev­ery stu­dent and teacher has been given an iPad with the Zoom app in­stalled. For them, Mon­day was just “business mostly as usual,” said district spokesman Tom Petersen.

AP FILE PHOTO

Zoom, one of the most pop­u­lar web con­fer­enc­ing apps used by schools across the coun­try, ex­pe­ri­enced par­tial out­ages Mon­day morn­ing, the first day of class for many stu­dents.

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