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How to Streamline Virtual School and Communications with Finalsite and Google
Debbie Eisenach

COVID-19 has required that schools move to virtual learning and communications, so having the right tools and technology in place is critical for educators, parents, and students. In order to show how schools use Finalsite and Google for Education together, Finalsite CEO Jon Moser led a webinar and was joined by Google's Partner Manager Ryan Clark, John Mikton, Head of Education and Media Technology at International School of Luxembourg, and Kimberly House, Educational Technology Specialist at Bavarian International School. This team shared their expertise in streamlining communications and online learning while offering insights and tips for success.

Key themes covered included:

  • How to reimagine your brick and mortar campus as a digital campus
  • How to communicate effectively with your community during this crisis
  • How Google for Education is leading the way in online learning platforms
  • How to deliver quality remote/online/hybrid learning to ALL students
  • How Bavarian International School pivoted to Google Classroom during the shutdown.

If you prefer to watch the webinar, you can access it here!

Jon Moser opened the conversation by discussing the current climate at schools around the world, and shared the concerns heard in talking with school leaders during the past six months. The main takeaway: school leaders all agree that their main focus is on delivering a quality online education whether in person, online or hybrid.  Larger topics discussed include:

  • How do you keep your school growing and solvent? 
  • How will your message and value proposition change? 
  • When a prospective family comes in and looks at your website and tries to figure out who we are, how has that changed?
  • What does it mean for online learning and hybrid learning? How do these combine?
  • What communication tools should you use? What software should you be using?

Your Digital Campus

As a father to five children, Jon shared his first hand experience and the chaos around communications and online learning when COVID-19 first hit.  He quickly got to work with the entire Finalsite team to evaluate school websites and how they needed to change. The Digital Campus took center stage as shown in this infographic.  Like your brick and mortar school, your website is the core of your digital campus.  It is that central point where everyone -- your parents, your students, your alums, your teachers -- go to get information.

When schools rethink the importance of their website, the three main pillars, often referred to as information “hubs”, which include parent communications, distance learning and student enrollment.  These sections can no longer remain just single pages but require a robust micro-site  to capture everything needed when the only option is remote.  Jon then shared examples for each of these as well as information on Finalsite’s library of digital assets that both current clients and non clients can implement.  

Digital Campus communication tools discussed included:

Live Streaming

Many schools are investing in live streaming equipment that can tie right into a school’s website. Whether it's in the classroom, a sporting event, or other school activity, live streaming has grown in importance and has proven to be invaluable. 

Inbound Marketing

Enrollment numbers are still a big concern for many schools.  Jon shared Finalsite tools to help automate the enrollment process.  When someone makes an inquiry, emails are automatically sent based on various triggers. He discussed how Saigon South International School has increased enrollment with a 10% increase from inquiry to application through inbound marketing.

Mobile App

Having a school app as a one-stop shop for constituents to find all the information and content they need is more important than ever.


Finalsite and Google for Education

Jon began by discussing how Finalsite partners with Google:

  • Access Google Classrooms via Finalsite with Single Sign-on
  • Log into Finalsite with Google Authentication
  • Google Cloud Platform Hosting & Security
  • Google Calendars Integration for athletics and events in Composer
  • Set up Google Analytics on Composer Site
  • Embed Google Maps

Ryan discussed how Google focuses on helping families, students and educators and how critical these tools are when people are not able to physically connect in person.

Ryan shared the following points:

Success Stories

  • Over 140 million students and teachers use G-Suite for education in order to help support their learning needs. This includes over 40 million students using Chromebooks as a device to easily access any type of learning material that the teacher might provide.
  • Google Classroom usage grew to over 100 million students and teachers based on the impacts of COVID. 

Google’s Design Principles

  • Built for collaboration
  • Easy to use
  • Flexible and Scalable
  • Secure by design
  • Useful for a small school or a school with hundreds of thousands of students 

Google’s Anywhere School Event

Google hosted a 48 hour international event,  the Anywhere School, which is available on demand.  During this event Google announced over 50 new product features that will be launched for this back-to-school cycle. 

Teach From Anywhere 

This hub was created to help anyone involved in distance learning.  From parents to teachers alike, there are resources to help.  Google understands that parents are a big, active part of this process and learning looks very different in this model.  Google also has created a robust teacher center with great content around distance learning. 

Google Classroom Product Updates

  • Google Meet integration to make it even easier for synchronous learning
  • Improvements for exporting grades
  • Integration with rosters from various student information systems
  • Improvements on student to-do lists and access to the correct Google Classroom

The New Normal For Schools 

Jon and Ryan were joined by two school professionals who shared their school stories and how they have pivoted.  John Mikton is an international educator who teaches online courses and runs online support groups all while working at the International School of Luxembourg.  John also runs a popular Facebook Group, International Schools Information Technology Leaders and Digital Coaches with over 3,500 international educators where you can ask questions, share resources and have conversations.

John eloquently shared: “I think the one thing that everybody is coming to terms with is this new normal. I think when we went into COVID, many people thought it would be over in the summer and then in the summer we'll travel. What we're seeing is this short sprint has turned into a marathon.”

He stressed resilience and wellbeing are the cornerstones for engaging and understanding.  With John’s positive outlook and continual push for digital fluency and integration, he touched on the following:

  • The silver lining of COVID is that everybody pivoted overnight and had to deal with digital tools.  There has been unexpected innovation - educators have risen to the occasion and the innovation and the quick pivot to online has amplified some of the amazing work that's going on.
  • When first hit with virtual emergency learning schools realized they had to keep the boat afloat.  What is now understood, emergency virtual learning is not online learning and is a much different beast. Schools are coming to terms with this and looking at how to recalibrate.
  • Your digital campus should be this idea of vanilla. Keep it simple, use a few tools, make it easy to access, have workflows that are clear and transparent, and don't get into all the bells and whistles. 
  • What are the gaps that we are seeing with our students and our staff with digital fluency? That's digital citizenship, information literacy, device management, all those different mindsets, skills and knowledge that we need to work on.
  • Schools need to really up their game to make sure parents feel the differentiation and understand the worth of their investment. The online reality has to be robust and your school has to be able to deliver something that's different from the others.
  • Remember, most of us are used to Amazon and Facebook. When you go to Amazon, you don't go to other places. There's one place you'd go, same with Facebook. We have to replicate that very unique experience that we've gotten used to as consumers, but in an education setting. 
  • Everybody thinks kids are digital natives. I disagree, they're very good digital consumers. What we need to do is mentor and engage them to understand that being creators of content is really where the differentiator is.  We need to support our teachers to understand that, give them the tools and the professional development to help students become content creators.

Technology at Bavarian International School

As the technology coordinator at Bavarian International School, Kim discussed their recent website redesign with Finalsite and their excitement with all the new tools provided by Finalsite.  She then went on to discuss how fortunate they were to have started as a G-Suite school and how far they have come. 

Some key points she stressed about Google Classroom:

  • The learning curve is low because it is easy to use. 
  • You can use it without all the bells and whistles to start
  • Teachers can quickly communicate with students and organize Google Meets 
  • Teachers she thought would never touch it, now think it’s great! Some have said:  "Yes, it's the greatest thing ever. Why didn't I do this sooner?”  

She then shared their use of Classroom through a screen share highlighting:

  • Creating and sending announcements is quick.  Teachers can communicate with all students,  with a select group or just individual students.  There's not a bunch of emails going back and forth and all communication is centralized.
  • The Meet Link is up on the top right so easy for teachers and students to meet.
  • The ability to co-teach enables teachers to pull great content from a colleague and truly collaborate.
  • The school instituted a labeling system for assignments with the day of the week and the week, e.g. “Week One Monday”.  This consistency has made it clear and easy for everybody involved, and it saved a lot of hassle for families and for kids.
  • Having one spot for parents and students to go is critical - especially with younger primary kids. They both needed a lot of support and parents had to become co-teachers themselves.
  • Time saving features of Google Classroom for teachers include overviews of students work, what is due, quick access to grading, ability to comment on assignments, the ability to create comments that can be reused when grading student work, ability to use audio comments,  the use of rubrics for grading  as well as a traditional point scoring system or percentages.
  • There are so many additional software services that integrate with Google Classroom, which our teachers found really useful.

Kim concluded, “Parents were really thrilled with it as well because they'd never seen it before. They were thrilled with how simple and easy it was for them to figure out what was going on and what their kids needed to do.”

The session ended with a Questions and Answers session with key topics:

  • For schools invested in another LMS, Google has a tool called Assignments, which is a Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) that can plug into your LMS and provide a lot of the great features for quickly and easily commenting and grading students' work.
  • There was a discussion around the importance of consistency with how Google Classroom is set up as parents prefer continuity across classes. 
  • There were questions around Google features, and Ryan reiterated watching the Anywhere School as it’s a great reference point.  He also stressed that anyone using Google products should offer feedback as that is how they prioritize adding new features. 

Key Takeaway

While teaching and communicating virtually can be challenging, and there's no silver bullet, having the right tools and tech in place can make it easier and create better outcomes for students, parents, and educators.

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Debbie Eisenach

As part of Finalsite's marketing team, Debbie has worked with international schools for the past nine years while living in both Asia and Europe. From conference planning and presentations to association events and client success stories, she helps schools understand how they can maximize their web presence while partnering with Finalsite. As a parent of three children who attended and graduated from IB World Schools, she has keen insights into the marketing and communication operations and needs of international schools.

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