The innovative solution keeps thousands of charter school students and educators connected
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge students, their families, and educators across the United States. A forward-thinking executive discovered a unique way to help make the internet connections essential to remote learning more visible, manageable, and reliable.
Achievement First: Educational Excellence, Despite COVID-19
Achievement First manages 37 public charter schools across Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island. Those schools support more than 15,000 students and 2,500 teachers and staff. And those who run Achievement First believe strongly that every student deserves a chance to get an excellent education, regardless of economic or social status. Most Achievement First students are people of color, and many are from low-income families.
Marques Stewart is Achievement First’s Vice President of Technology. He is responsible for managing and supporting the connections and devices that support the company’s managed schools. “We are very forward-looking. We want to prepare our kids for the future. A lot of that is reliant upon technology.”
With the advent of COVID-19, Stewart also became responsible for making sure the cloud-based services that enable remote learning, from Google to Zoom, are kept up and running to the best of their abilities.
As the pandemic grew, Stewart quickly recognized the rapidly expanding pandemic could directly affected every single Achievement First scholar and all of their families. The families of students were particularly challenged. They had to get comfortable with remote learning and help student children do so, too. And in many cases, this meant they also had to become familiar with all that goes into connecting a home computer to a remote school via the internet.
HubbleIQ: A Missing Link No More
In response to the pandemic, Stewart and his team began assembling a toolkit to help them identify and resolve technical problems for remotely connected students, teachers, and staff. And while they could monitor users’ connected devices fairly easily, they did not have visibility into the quality of those users’ actual internet links. “We were working with a lot of assumptions and presumptions, bit without a lot of hard data to back that up.”
So Stewart sought a tool that could provide insight into those internet connections. His first online stop was the Google Chrome Web Store, since many if not most of his connected constituents use Chromebook devices. A quick search for “remote speed test” revealed HubbleIQ, a Chrome browser extension. HubbleIQ periodically inspects the internet connection of the device running the browser, reports the status in plain language, and offers recommendations and information to help improve the connection and resolve problems. Stewart downloaded and began working with the free personal version. “I was impressed by the amount of the information, the clarity of the information, and the ease of use for a non-tech person,” Stewart said.
HubbleIQ: Beyond Technology
“HubbleIQ allows us to have a more holistic view of our environment that’s pretty much close to what we would have if the student were in person with us. ”
— Marques Stewart, VP of IT
Stewart was impressed but concerned about whether the solution could scale. He needn’t have worried. When he reached out to HubbleIQ co-founders Keyvan Berenjian and Belinda Batdorf, “the guidance through what the potential of the platform was and what it was capable of at the time was helpful.” Stewart also appreciated their “transparency and willingness to roll up their sleeves and hear the kinds of things we needed as a school district to really make this platform shine and be useful for our situation.”
Stewart and his team quickly deployed HubbleIQ across the district via the Chrome Dashboard. After a few days, they had sufficient information to create a baseline with which internet performance could be meaningfully assessed. That baseline helps Stewart’s support team determine if an individual user’s problem is a network performance issue or something else, such as a hardware fault.
“HubbleIQ allows us to have a more holistic view of our environment that’s pretty much close to what we would have if the student were in person with us. That’s very helpful in terms of being able to have more definitive answers to what may be happening to a particular student, rather than hypothesis.”
A Strong Start, A Promising Future
In the longer term, Stewart looks forward to leveraging HubbleIQ and its included support resources to “being able to really nail down if a particular student is having consistent problems” and to offer them specific, practical suggestions.
“The more that we empower families to support their students, the easier it is for them to do so,” Stewart said. HubbleIQ delivers clear, actionable, real-time information about any user’s internet connection. This not only enables families to focus on supporting their remotely connected students. It also reduces demands on already-overextended school or district IT support teams, Stewart added.
Those calls “can delay support for a couple of hours or a day or so.” But when a user knows there is a problem and can access useful basic diagnostic information, “you can probably resolve the issue in a couple of minutes. HubbleIQ really makes visible for the end-user what was invisible before,” Stewart said.
Overall, working with the HubbleIQ team has been “an outstanding experience,” Stewart said. “This is a team that is really dedicated to the mission of making their product better and more informative and responsive to the needs of the customer.”
“As a technology person and a person who works in education, just being able to work with a partner who understands the urgency by which we are operating and the importance of something as simple as an internet connection speed test to the quality of life in this remote learning environment. Anything that helps us improve that quality of life, which is what HubbleIQ is doing, is an asset, and the people who support that are assets as well.”
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