Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

Sanford School is a creative and inclusive preschool–12 community that encourages students to embrace their individuality,
tap into their talents, stretch their skills and broaden their ambitions. Learn more at Sanford School.

Feb 9, 2021

Recommendations are given by Sanford School's technology team for creating a safe and reliable virtual learning environment for your child.

See the full transcript below:

Sanford School | Creating A Safe & Reliable Virtual Learning Environment For Your

Child Audio


Welcome to Sanford Speaks, the podcast that provides valuable insights and information to help

parents and students navigate the world of education. Today's host is Sanford communications

director and IT director, Cheryl Fleming. We hope you enjoy this episode.

Welcome to Sanford Speaks. Our topic today is creating a safe and reliable virtual learning

environment for your child. This is another in our podcast series about living, learning, and teaching

through the pandemic. Our guests today members of Sanford's technology team. We're fortunate to

have them, because they're very busy. But they bring a ton of expertise to this topic. And so we're

going to begin by asking each one of them to introduce themselves. Dave, why don't you get us


Thanks Cheryl for having me. I am David May, network administrator. I've been the network

administrator here for 15 years.

I'm Kevin McDermott. I'm a technology associate. This is my, I think, fifth year here at Sanford. I kind

of do a pretty broad breadth of things here. Anything from assisting Dave with some of the

networking stuff we have around campus, and then also just helping teachers out with their day to

day tech needs.

And I'm Jen Nightingale. I am the middle school technology instructor, but I've been at Sanford since

1995 and joined the IT team in 2000.


I'm Sandy Sutty, I'm the technology integration coordinator. That just means I just help students,

teachers, parents, administrators, really the whole Sanford community, to make sure they're up and

running with all the technology needs.

And I'm Patrick Martin, lower school technology instructor, and I've been here for 18 years now.

Well, thank you again to everyone for being here. Today, we were talking about being online. Keeping

it safe, keeping it reliable. I think one of the best places to start is looking at younger students.

Almost everybody is online today. A lot of people are Zooming. Patrick, with respect to the young kids,

what are some of the safety things that parents and teachers need to be looking out for with young


Well, I think one of the main things right now, most of the games that the kids are playing these days

Minecraft, Roblox, things like that, they're able to communicate with kids anywhere in the world really.

So making sure that they don't share any personal information is a big thing. Any time they have a

question always check with their parents first. That's the big-- I always tell them, talk to your parents,

ask your parents first if you can join this, do this, make sure they know what they're doing, what

games you're on. I think that's one of the big things going on right now. Just making sure that you're

not giving out any personal information over the internet, because you never know who's on the

other end. I always try and encourage that with them.

And Jen, I'm guessing in middle school you have other issues that you're dealing with all the time, with

respect to passwords, and sharing passwords, and people wanting to socialize online. Can you give

parents some guidance about what they should be concerned about with respect to, say, fifth

through eighth grade students?

Sure. I think it's such an interesting time, because the kids are just sort of feeling their oats, and

really wanting to join those social arenas. Because that's appropriately developmental for this age.

Just trying to make connections. And it's scary. My best advice for parents is to really do their

research. And if a child gets an app on their phone, or their computer, just to really ask questions.

What is this? What is it? How are you connecting with others? And what are you using this for? It's

about communication, open lines of communication through and through.

And actually--

Jen, do you recommend-- I'm sorry, I was just going to say, do recommend parents to have access to

the kids' phones, to make sure they can see what's going on?

That's a sticky wicket. I don't know. Because I-- that's a tough one. I believe in privacy, but at the

same time, you're paying the bills, and you want to keep your children safe. So yeah, it's up to the

parent obviously. However, yes, they can definitely check in. I do recommend that, unless that

bothers you.

Sandy, you can speak a little bit from a parent perspective, as well as being an educator. What are

your thoughts about that?

As a parent, I do have two teenage boys. And they know that I have access to their devices. I have

their passwords, and periodically you just need to check in. Just to make sure that they're not

spending time, or doing things that they shouldn't. As when you go into their room. You don't let them

shut their rooms, because you never know how messy it will be. So, I think it's just part of being a

parent. Making sure that you do sometimes cross the boundaries, but you also need to teach them, so

that they know what's right from wrong, and to correct them if they make mistakes. Because they will

make them.

And Kevin, I think you were about to jump in and say something a couple minutes ago?

Yes, I was just going to piggy actually on what Jen said, and now also what Sandy said. One thing, kind

of piggy backing on Sandy, with the whole monitoring what your child is doing at home, I know a lot

of retail wireless routers have either a web portal, or sometimes a companion app, to go along with

them. And those usually are pretty feature rich. So I'd explore kind of what your router manufacturer

has to offer. Because I know you can look at on like a by device basis, as what kind of traffic's going

on. You can even limit access during certain windows. So, you could say, during these hours, there's

no internet for this specific device. So, you don't have to shut yourself down if you're just trying to

control what your child is doing at night.

And then I was just going to follow up with what Jen was talking about, as far as being engaged with

what your child is doing online. I was just going to say that's great advice for what Pat was talking

about as well. Just with games, like knowing what this game is, and how they communicate with other

people. Is it an online game? Is it a single person game? Just that whole engagement, I think, and

having that open dialogue with your child can be really useful.

And just having some expectations and rules in a house. I have the kids charge their phones

downstairs, so that it's away from them in the bedroom. So, just those little tips and tricks you can

use, and you don't necessarily have to have the software, which is very helpful. I don't, I just have

them bring it downstairs. For overnight you mean? Charge overnight downstairs? Yeah.


I think another--

Because I've-- yeah, go ahead Dave.

Oh no. I was going to say, I think another good program I actually use at home-- my nephew lives with

me-- is open DNS. It's a great program to use. It'll allow you to pick categories to block. Gambling,

pornography, things like that. You can just have that running so that anyone on your network at home

is affected by that when they're surfing the internet. So, you don't maybe have to look at everyone's--

at your kid's devices so much if you use that. It does a pretty good job of blocking things.

Dave is that something that runs on the kid's computer, or is that on the router? What is open DNS?

Open DNS is a program. And basically what you do is, you set up your Verizon, Comcast, whatever

you're using. You set up your IP address in the portal that you-- you sign up for a free account. Just put

your IP address for your Verizon, or Comcast, or whoever your provider is in there and it filters your

traffic from that address. So that, when you try to go to some of these sites that might be blocked, it

will get blocked. It just gives you an open DNS return, instead of the website that you're trying to get


So, let's talk a little bit about passwords. I know some people, friends of mine, who talk about

passwords use the same password all the time for everything. Are there some passwords safety tips

you could share with our viewers and listeners?

I know, I forget who told me, I think it was somebody on this call. But I know, ideally you to be using a

different password for every single thing that you're using. But I know feasibly it's not always possible

for a lot of people, myself included. So, I've really taken to, I have a kind of a root that I use, and then

that root will change depending on what account I'm using. And that change will be specific to the

account. So if it's my bank account, it will be my root, and then something that I know identifies my

bank account. And it's something that I could kind of easily remember. That way you don't have to

worry about remembering this huge 12-character thing. You can just always have your root. Hopefully

it checks all the boxes that most sites need. Sometimes some will throw you for a loop. But I've

always found that really helpful.

Kevin, you taught me that. I remember, like a year ago, and that has been my saving grace.

It makes things easier.

Root plus is a way to go. I love it.

There are also programs and such for that. I was talking about open DNS. I've used a number of these

over the years. Right now, I'm using something called Everykey. So, when I do put my passwords in, it

remembers them. And it's a little device. So, if I walk away from my computer, it automatically logs

my computer-- or locks it. And if I go to a website, it will offer to enter the information for me. So, I can

use a bunch of really weird passwords, suggest caps, lowercase, characters, numbers. And I an pick

the weirdest, strangest passwords, and whenever I go to those sites the Everykey will log it in for me.

There's also 1Password, Dashlane, a lot of things you can use both on your phone and your

computers that you're using, to help you with your passwords, so you don't have them stuck all over

your monitor, or under your keyboard, or things like that.

I know a lot of the sites I go to these days offer two-step authentication. Can somebody talk about

that, and what some of the advantages of using 2-step authentication are, for folks out there?

I can chime in. And so, yo yes, two-step or two-factor authentication is actually a really, really useful

thing. In addition to having a secure password, it's just an extra step of verification that the site that

you're using uses. So, in addition to your password, they're going to text you a code, give you a phone

call, send you an email kind of thing. And it's just that one extra layer that, so even if somebody were

to be able to get your password, or guess your password, they would also then need to access this

second device, or the second tool essentially, to sign in as you.

Add on top of that it actually kind of doubles as an alert system. If you get an unsolicited verification

code from one of these sites, you might want to then go in and preemptively change your password,

just because somebody might have been trying to log into your account without you knowing. I know

a lot of people kind of balk at the idea of having to get this code every single time that you sign in.

But with a lot of sites, if you're using the same computer over and over, you can actually have it

remember that one computer. But it will still send you that code if somebody else outside of your

personal device would be trying to get in. So, it's not as bad as it sounds.

Well, I know everybody here is online-- everybody here today is online a lot. But I think there are

some people out there, parents included, who might not be online a lot. And Patrick was talking about

not sharing personal email, and personal information rather, not email. What kind of tips can you

offer so that people know when they're engaging with a secure site?

I think on most browsers, Safari, Chrome, Firefox, a couple of other ones, whenever you go to a

website, if you look at the address bar on the top where the URL is, there's usually a padlock of some

type so that you know you're in a secure place. You'll see it when you do banking, taxes, things like

that. If you're entering passwords or any kind of personal information, always look for that little

padlock so that you're on a secure area putting information in.

OK. Anybody have any last safety tips they'd like to recommend for students, preschool through 12th,

before we move on to reliability?

At Sanford, we do have a digital citizenship program, where we teach kids about how to learn how to

check reliable resources, and making sure that they know that there are strangers out there. Just

having a conversation with them, and alerting to them that whatever you're saying is never private.

That it's always public. And to make sure that they have a way that they're using it professionally and

personally. But also making sure they keep themselves safe.

And be careful when you're on any internet site, or social media, when you're posting stuff. Because

that stuff is forever. You think it's not. You think you're just sharing with your friends. But you're

sharing with your friends' friends, and their friends' friends. So, just always be careful when you're

posting anything, doing anything online. Especially social media.

Well, since last March, I think everybody has been involved in some kind of online activity. And I think

Zoom has become a household word. So, we have more and more people online. Sometimes multiple

people in a household. What are your thoughts about making sure that students, and students whose

parents might be at home working, are able to be on the internet and do all the things that they need

to do. With the video files, and downloads, and all of those kinds of things, what should parents be

looking for in terms of reliability?

I think there's a few things that you can look into. First and foremost, it's just knowing what your

internet package is supposed to be providing you. And then also knowing what the demands are for

the programs you're going to be using. So, I know Zoom is one that you were mentioning. They have

a minimum specs kind of thing, and most programs and websites have that. If you're going to be

using an app, or a game, or a device, they usually have a minimum spec requirement.

So, just keeping that in mind and then multiplying that by the number of people in your household

using that item, and then comparing that to what you have through your package. So, either Comcast

or Verizon or any of those, they'll tell you in megabits or megabytes per second kind of thing, so you

can compare that to the devices that you're using. And the more people you have in your house, the

more taxing it's going to be obviously. So, just making sure you have the package you need.

And then, two, actually check to see if you have what you're supposed to be having. You can use sites

like, I know is one that will test your actual internet speed. Sometimes your service

provider will have it as well. Just make sure everything's up to snuff. And if you're using that you're

not quite getting those speeds that you're paying for, making sure you're close to your-- close in

physical proximity to your wireless router, being plugged in with an ethernet cable if possible is

always going to be a benefit as far as internet speeds. Just that kind of stuff.

Kevin, I know a lot of people are getting smart light bulbs and smart this. Do though slow your

internet down as well? So, if you've got a bunch of bulbs going, or does that--

I mean it's another device on your network, so it is going to have some kind of network traffic. I think,

though, it's pretty small amounts of traffic we're talking about. But every little bit, if you're already

kind of eeking by with what you got, every little bit is going to pull you down a little bit. So, you can

view it as just one big pie that you're taking little slices out of every time you hook up a device too.


Well, this probably isn't the best question, because everybody's situation is so different. But I know we

have lots of students now who are doing virtual meetings. In terms of audio quality, and video quality,

and those kind of things. Are there some best practices you can recommend for families? I know

some schools give the kids devices, some schools don't. And families have to go out and make

purchases perhaps. But if there were a top five, or a top 10 list of things that parents should be

considering when setting up a virtual environment for their kids, what would those things be?

If you had your druthers and could do the best setup possible, I'd always say that getting a USB

microphone and camera would be beneficial than almost any device's built in camera and

microphone. For the longest time, especially pre-COVID, most laptop manufacturers kind of thought

of a webcam just like an afterthought. So, they'd use the same kind of old webcam in every single

device that came out. Because that wasn't the big flagship thing that people cared about. They

always wanted the latest processor, or the most RAM, that kind of thing. Nobody was really-- before

now-- pining after the best webcam. So, usually, generally speaking, the USB plug-in webcams are a

bit better quality. Same with the microphones.

I think also, especially if you're in a room with more than one person, headphones or earbuds are a

huge thing. A lot of them have microphones in them, but that's a big thing to have. Just to cancel

noise from outside and help you while you're trying to hear or learn something. And because the

microphone might be closer to you. The teachers are able to hear you better, and your classmates

are able to hear you better. Also to go back to what Kevin was talking about, getting close to your

router. We have--

Hang on, hang on.

Yeah, sure.

Before you go any further, for those people out there who don't know, will you talk a little bit about

what a router is?

Yeah sure. There's switches and routers. So, a router most everybody has a router from their ISP,

Comcast, Verizon, that carries your traffic from your house out to the internet. It does all your address

translations through DNS and all that. So, all your traffic goes through that router. It assigns internal IP

addresses for all your machines, your phones, and everything, that are private so you can't get to

them from outside. But it does do all the routing for you to the internet. So, not to be too overly nerdy

about it.

But if you are-- when you do have a lot of people on the internet at once, and it does take up some of

your bandwidth-- and we did it just the other day here for one of our employees who was having

some troubles. She asked Kevin, and Kevin's recommendation and mine, for a way to help. She was

doing stuff at home, her husband's doing stuff at home. And if you have a bigger house, or even if

your router might be down in the basement, and you're upstairs on the first floor, the signal's not

always great the further you get away from it. So there are options. Verizon has them, Comcast has

them. We recommended Google Wi-Fi to her, and she did get that three Wi-Fi package, and she's

raving about it. She said it was great. Their signal in their house is great everywhere now.

So, that's always an option if you're frustrated by the speed, or you're having issues, latency issues,

with things kind of locking up and stopping and starting, you might need to get some kind of extender

to make your signal better throughout the house.

Let's talk a little bit about software updates. I know from time to time your machine will give you a

little message saying, time for an update. Update required. Can you speak to why it's important for

students and parents to keep tabs on updates, and why it's often important for them to make the--

kind of things can go wrong if you don't update?

Yes, for example, Zoom, if you don't update, it doesn't work. Or you have issues with it. Also security,

when you're doing updates it adds the most current security. So, making sure that you update is

super important, and not just waiting, I'll do it at the end of the day, or I'll do it at the end of the week.

So, it is important that you do that.

I think also the updates also add new items to a program. Since everybody's been doing Google Meet,

or Zoom, or whatever it might be, they've had a chance to see what people have said to them that

they would like to have in the program. And they might add that in an update. So, if all of us, or the

teachers at school, are conducting a class on Zoom, and they have the newest version, and one of

the students doesn't, because they didn't do an update, they might not have the ability to do some of

the stuff the teacher might be asking them to do. So, it's always good to try to do your updates.

Especially security updates that kind of plug holes in software for vulnerabilities.

So, to update, you just reboot your computer? Or is there a special way to go and do that?

All updates are a little bit different. Some of them will just pop up on my Mac. Today, in fact, it popped

up and said, I have an update to do. And it gives you the option of doing it later, doing it now. A lot of

updates will download automatically, and then they'll prompt you to install them. So, you will install

them, then the machine usually reboots, or the program will reboot. I know Kevin's got some other

updates that he's worked with too. But most of the time they'll auto download. A lot of times it will

say, hey, there's an update. You need to download it, then install it. So, most of the time it doesn't just

download and install without you kind of intervening in one way or the other.

Yeah. I know for with Windows, in the start menu in settings, that's where you'd go to check for

updates there. And for Mac, it's in the System Preferences for the actual system updates. App updates

would be from the App Store usually. But usually if you having trouble finding where to update, one

place that I always try to look first is in the About section of a lot of programs. Some programs will

say, about, and then if you click on that, you can usually find updates. That's where Chrome's updates

live and things like that.

Well, I'm excited that we're presenting all this information. But I'm guessing, especially since we have

some digital citizenship courses and things like that, that you mentioned, what kind of resources are

out there for parents who say, I'd really like to learn more. In terms of safety, reliability, or other tech

related issues. What resources could you recommend?

Common Sense Media is an outstanding website that really puts it into parent understanding and

doesn't get geeky on you. But it tells you the information and then throw away. So that's a go-to one.

That's one I always recommend. It'll review games, apps, movies, everything, for parents. Or it'll do a-

- like there was a story on TikTok. Is TikTok safe? Is it not? And it did a whole review of TikTok. So,

yeah, I agree Sandy. That's my go-to . There is a parent section, and then there's also an educator

section. And I do a lot of my social digital citizenship from there as well.

Well, I know-- oh, go ahead, Jen.

--just about safety-- sorry.

No go ahead.

So, I will get some middle schoolers in, and they will have-- no joke-- 10 to 40 tabs across the top of

their computer screen. And we have this thing instituted, although we haven't done it this year as

much. I think it's, No Tab Tuesday, or No Tab Thursday, something with alliteration. And the kids--

there's two reasons we talk about the tabs. They don't care. But one is the resources of the computer.

You've got all these tabs open. And so that's a huge thing when you're at home. If you peek over your

child's shoulder, look to see how many tabs. Are there a lot of tabs, hey, can we close some of those?

There's a way to group them as well, which is a different lesson, but you can group them all into one

set. Which is a very good skill set. But also for those kids who can't focus, and even though I'm this

age, I'm that kid who can't focus. If I see a tab up, I'll be clicking it, just because. And so that's another

thing. If parents are at home working with their kids, I think it's-- just talk about those tabs. Because

they can mess you up in a couple of different ways. And I know they're important, but if you learn

how to group them, ask us how to do that, then that's one less thing that you're going to worry about.

I think too, when you have a lot of tabs open, and all of you have probably-- this has happened to all

of you-- because we do work during the day, all of us have 50 tabs open doing multitasking on

different things. But have you ever had that, where you have all these tabs open, you're like, what is

that sound? What am I hearing? You have headphones on, you're trying to do something, and you

realize that there's three things open-- you have tabs open that are playing things in the background.

And there's a little microphone on there, or a speaker icon on there, so you know that there's actually

audio playing on those tabs. And on most browsers now, you can click the speaker icon to mute them.

But I just was thinking about that, because it happened to me today. I had so many tabs open. I'm like,

what is that sound? And I had something was playing in the background. It was an ad. But it was

playing in the background, and it was driving me crazy. So, having fewer tabs open is easier to


Let's talk about when stuff just goes wrong. All of you work in tech every day. You help people who

are having problems. You have your own problems. But I'm sitting there thinking about the fourth

grade student, or the eighth grade student, who's trying to Zoom, and is maybe in a Zoom breakout

room. What advice do you have for kids when it's not all coming together? I guess kids and parents.

I think relax, and realize that it's okay. I think we talked about this earlier. Most kids are a little bit

more laid back. It's us parents and teachers that are like, oh my goodness. You want everything on

time, you want the lesson to be engaging, and as long as the length of the class. So, sometimes just

take a deep breath and realize it's okay to start over. And try your best as you can to get it right. Or

have backup plans. I think that's what we've learned throughout COVID, that not everything will work

perfectly, and that you can do multiple things in multiple ways. And always have that backup plan


That's great advice.

I think too, yeah, depending on the app you're using, you can always try to close the app and open it

again if you're having a problem. And then, the word in IT, reboot. Usually rebooting fixes most of the

problems you're having. Not all of the time. But we recommend that to most people. When they call

us here, you'll try to troubleshoot it. And if it's still having a problem, rebooting. Usually they'll call

back and say, yes, that fixed it. So, don't be afraid to reboot. You can always reconnect to the Zoom,

or whatever it is that you're in. And start with the app first. If you're having a problem with Zoom,

maybe disconnect from it and reconnect. Or any other app you're in. If your browser is locked up, just

try to close your browser and open it again. But in the end, rebooting the machine and overall might

fix whatever the problem is.

We've covered a lot of ground here. So, as we wrap up, I'd like each one of you to give your favorite

piece of advice, or one tip, that you'd like our viewers and listeners to remember. And it can be about

safety. It can be about reliability. It can be about anything you want. So, why don't we start with

Patrick, who is used to providing tips for lots of younger people.

I think it kind of goes to, I think Sandy said it, is don't worry about it. Relax. Everything's going to be

fine. And when technology messes up, I think that's my what I tell the kids. And they usually handle it

pretty well. So like I think she said, the kids are handling it well, it's us adults that have a hard time

with it. But they do pretty well.


Absolutely. And I've said this before. I really believe this has made me a better teacher, more flexible.

And that by the kids seeing us adults maybe struggle a little bit here and there, but then come back

and get the content to them, it's all a learning curve. And it's really important that they see that we

understand. We get it. We're not blaming them. I also don't like technology to be the reason you give

up. If something doesn't work, that you stop. It's easy to say, OK, it's not working, so I'm just going to--

this lesson gone. No. Like Sandy said, you have a quick backup plan, and it's probably going to be

better than ever. I always believe in, second chance is always better, for some reason. It is for me

anyway. I don't know.


One thing I would say is to not be afraid to share any kind of cool tips or tricks that you end up coming

up with. Because a lot of times, even though something might be recommended to you from an IT

person, they aren't necessarily living with it every single day. I know throughout this year and in the

end of last year, we'd come up with all these strategies, and then implement them, and put it in the

teachers' hands. And then they'd come up with all these cool ways to use it in ways that we never

even thought of.

And a lot of times we wouldn't hear about that, until you kind of hear it through the grape vine. Oh,

so-and-so found a really neat way to use x, y, z. So I'd say, just because, if something's working out

really well for you, share it with people around you. Just because it's-- you figured it out, doesn't

mean everyone else has. So, just letting everybody else know cool little hints, tips, tricks, all that kind

of stuff.


Just a couple of things. Everybody's had great stuff here. I think just relax. It seems like it's the end of

the world when something's happening, tech wise, when you're in the middle of something. But you

can get it back, so just relax with that. Even though we're all in the IT field, and we've been in the IT

field for a number of years, things that are happening to you also happen to us. It's frustrating, and

we get frustrated by it, and usually we do what we ask you to do to fix the problem. So, it happens to


And there are-- I think, whenever I've talked to people before, or you go visit someone to help them

with something-- there are no bad questions in technology. Don't feel like you can't ask something,

because you don't want people to think that, oh, I don't want people to think I'm dumb, or anything

like, that because you're not. So, there are no bad questions, and that's how you learn. I learn from

my co-workers every day. Hopefully they learn from me. So, those are the things I think are the


And Sandy, you started us off with a piece of advice. Any final thought you'd like to share?

Be patient, and work together as a team, and everything will work out. And that's how we get through,

not just life, but in general. And just keeping that in mind, even when you're using technology.

Well, to all of you, 1,000 thank you's for all the great advice you shared about safety and reliability.

Particularly for kids, because this is an issue that's important to everyone. You have certainly

contributed to our living, teaching, and learning during the pandemic series. I hope you'll come back

and be on our podcast again. Thank you.

All right.


Thank you.

OK. Bye.