Post #554: Italians sing, Americans stream

Posted on March 17, 2020

Why I’m giving up streaming video for the duration

Or, at least until more information is available.  Because while news reports have Italians responding to quarantine by singing in the streets, here in the USA, I think we’re all sitting around streaming video.  (With some exceptions.)

The only useful thing in this post is the following:  If you aren’t finding adequate course content for your kids via the FCPS Blackboard system, take a look at the Loudoun County Schools website.

My daughter also highly recommends Khan Academy as a resource for course materials.

Source: Loudoun County Public Schools (scroll down to see content).

My TV begged me to turn it off

I had an odd thing happen last night:  Amazon streaming stopped my video and asked me if I really wanted to keep watching, because the video quality was going to get pretty bad.  I’ve had bouts of degraded video in the past, so I shrugged it off and kept watching.  At which point, it promptly degraded to the point of un-watchability.

I don’t think I’ve ever had Amazon (or any other streaming service) ask me to turn it off before.  I mean, seriously, this is America.  We just don’t do things like that.  The next thing you know the Government is going to be coming for your remote control.

I did a little test, and I’m pretty sure the problem was slow internet, not a bottleneck at Amazon.  (I.e., alternative streaming services were also degraded.) And that got me thinking.

I don’t think the problem is with my house in isolation ( though I do have an ancient FIOS setup that probably could use an upgrade.)  I’m guessing that the problem is that everybody’s home, streaming video.  Instead of doing whatever they might regularly be doing.

FCPS, what’s up?

That got me to thinking about Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS).  In theory, if “on-line education” occurs and classes are streamed, each kid in Fairfax needs to watch a different video feed.  If not actually engage in Skype-style two-way interaction.  I wonder how that’s going to work out, internet-congestion-wise?

Turns out, my worry is premature, but only by a couple of weeks.  Near as I can tell, from what FCPS says and from some internet postings, if learning is going on new for FCPS students, that’s effectively because they’re being home-schooled.

Briefly, looking at the FCPS website (scroll down to see the relevant content), Fairfax has started out with no video at all, just assignments on Blackboard.  That was, as I understand it, already a standard practice.  They are planning to broadcast lectures (?, my interpretation of “learning activities”) on three cable TV channels.  But that’s one channel each for elementary school, middle school, and high school.  So that can’t possibly cover each grade’s curriculum.

Right now, student participation in any of that is voluntary.  Which isn’t “school” as I understand the term. (Based on what the Prince William Schools website says, that approach appears to have been mandated by the Commonwealth as part of school closure, and so is not an FCPS decision.)  “Student work will be neither required nor graded.”  And while the County in theory handed out laptops to students without a computer at home, it’s not clear what they are going to do for students without access to some sort of internet connection.  “Additional information for families who need access to technology and connectivity will be provided soon.”

It’s not clear that FCPS is actually going to get to what I would call on-line classes.  If they do, that won’t happen for another couple of weeks. “After the first two-week school closure period, teacher-directed virtual instruction may be considered.”

I’ve been on enough business video conference calls that I’m not even clear what on-line classes would be, feasibility-wise.  I would define “on-line classes” minimally as each student watching a teacher lecturing about the relevant classes for that student.  I.e, 6th graders get a full day of the 6th grade curriculum.  But which would, in its fullest form, have each student watching and interacting with their own teacher in Skype-like exchanges.

(I note in passing that the network load for the video streaming would be about the same in either case, but that the production-and-content-output resources are orders-of-magnitude higher in the latter case where each student watches his or her own teacher.  For the first case, for the 6th grade, you would have to produce and stream on-order-of six programs a day.  For the second case, it would be more like 600 or so). 

In addition, pretty much every college student in the area will, in theory, be taking their classes on-line.  (Though, in our case, William and Mary has been notably silent on that so far.)

Anyway, for FCPS, when it gets down to brass tacks, I’m not sure how this whole internet-based learning is going to play out.  Purely in terms of feasibility.

But I have at least figured out that one thing they don’t need added to the list of problems is slow internet.  So I’m going to stop streaming video for a while and just get used to doing something else.  Can’t hurt, might help.  And streaming is really just a laziness reflex.  We have a whole library of DVDs, but its just so much effort to take the disk out of a box and play it.  Much easier to turn on Netflix.

Is anybody doing any better?

FCPS curriculum content appears to be distributed, at present, entirely through their Blackboard system.  So that’s up to each teacher to provide assignments and such to each of their students.  (And I can’t access that, as I do not have a Blackboard account, so I can’t judge what’s available.)

Loudoun County Schools:  Looks like more-or-less the same game plan.  Optional “learning experiences” for first couple of weeks or so.  (Again, this appears to be a Commonwealth mandate.)  Trying to make sure every student has a laptop.  They appear to have a specific extension to the Chrome browser that they want students to use.

There is a large amount of curriculum content that appears to be publicly available.  If you scroll down, they at least have a list of websites where you can go to get some type of content.  That actually looks usable.  Let me take a screenshot so you can see what I’m talking about.  I didn’t see anything like that on FCPS.  As I understand it, FCPS Blackboard is set up entirely for individual teacher to individual student postings.

If FCPS isn’t meeting your needs, and you are looking for (e.g.) lessons and such for your kids, I’d suggest going to the Loudoun County website (and remember to scroll down, otherwise all you see is the splash page.)  By eye, it looks like they have full course curricula laid out.  They appear to be far ahead of Fairfax in getting course content available in digital form.  I’ve put a screenshot of that at the top of this posting.


Prince William County:  They have a “Virtual Prince William” setup, but the content does not appear to be publicly available.  And, despite their own on-line portal, they seem to be scrambling as much or more than FCPS:  “PWCS will provide updates later this week regarding additional resources for families to support student independent learning at home and expectations for staff to support this learning beyond this week.” (reference).

So, no help there.  They do have a brief summary of each grade’s curriculum in each subject, which some might find helpful, under the Academics and Programs link on this web page.  If you click down to an individual grade and subject, you get a list of what is supposed to be learned, but no actual lesson content.