Aug 27, 2020 - Meghan Maneval    

Applying risk management to pandemic-driven remote learning

A GitLab team member and parent offers some tips to improve today’s remote learning experience.

This blog post is Unfiltered

Like many of you, when COVID-19 began to spread in the Spring of 2020, I never imagined just how much my life would change. While I personally was accustomed to working remotely, my husband and children certainly were not. As the pandemic continues, parents around the world are faced with a new challenge: how to simultaneously manage their careers and their children’s educational needs. The risks, at times, can feel insurmountable. I went through every emotion this summer as I tried to strategize for what pandemic-driven remote learning would look like for my family. And then I realized, why am I trying to recreate the wheel? As an all-remote company, GitLab’s values and all-remote culture provide a proven model for successfully managing a remote workforce. So why not try it out with my kids?

So with that knowledge and appreciation, I decided to utilize the basic principles of risk management to manage my family’s work and learn from home routine. But don’t worry, you don’t have to be a compliance professional to utilize this technique. In this blog post, I've mapped out the steps I used with my family that I hope will contribute to a more successful 2020/2021 school year for families.

Before you start, it is critical to remember, you can never fully eliminate risk. The steps below are designed to reduce the risk to align with your risk appetite. Only you can determine what level of risk you will accept. Some people, like myself, may be more risk-averse and therefore seek to plan out everything to the smallest detail. Others might be more risk-tolerant and willing to let things “slide” a little. No matter where you fall on that spectrum, you can utilize the steps below to document and execute a successful pandemic-driven remote learning plan.

1: Identify

The first stage of risk management is to identify possible risks. If you don’t know what could go wrong you can’t prepare for it! It’s important to collaborate with each member of your family and understand their specific needs and concerns. As parents, we all know that each of our children has different needs. The same is true for their education: what works for one student won’t work for all students.

Let’s consider last spring as our “trial run”. For remote learning, discuss with your children what they enjoyed about that time and what didn’t work. If possible, reach out to their previous year’s teachers for additional feedback. To ensure your remote work success during present times, it is also important to have a discussion with your boss and/or Human Resources department to set and understand expectations. Many employers have programs, like GitLab’s Family and Friends Day to provide flexible schedules or supportive programs like what’s described in this GitLab COVID-19 handbook page. The more people you talk to, the more data you can collect. And the more data you have now, the more prepared you will be for the next steps.

2: Analyze

Once you have identified your risks, you can move on to analyzing them. Depending on how many people are in your family, the list of risks identified may be long. In my case, as a family of 7, we had around 15 items on our initial list when we undertook this exercise. As we began analyzing them, however, our list grew to almost 30.

For us, the easiest way to analyze these risks was to consider the impact these risks had on the family (or the individual) and the likelihood of them recurring. Then we asked why over and over until the true cause is identified.

Example:
Student A (17): The school provided the students with weekly packets where they read and complete worksheets. Student A was unable to complete many of the assignments and failed 2 classes.
Risk Identified: Student A is concerned the school will do a similar process (paper packets) and he will continue to fail.
Impact: If Student A fails another class, he won’t graduate on time.
Likelihood: Depending on the classes and the course work, this could be highly likely.

Root cause analysis: Why did Student A fail?

  • Student A did not complete the packets for 2 of his classes, why?
  • Student A had trouble understanding the content, why?
  • Student A learns better with verbal instructions and opportunities to ask questions.

In this case, the root cause was that Student A needs more verbal instruction and oversight when being presented with new concepts.

You may also identify opportunities as part of this process. For example, in our house, Student C preferred using Google Classroom’s To-Do List functionality to track open assignments and was able to easily visualize his tasks. By identifying what went right, in addition to what went wrong, you are able to better shape your treatment plans in the next phase.

3: Action

Once you have analyzed your risks and identified the root causes, you can move on to the action phase. This phase is often the most difficult to complete. If you knew how to do it the right way, you would have done it correctly in the first place, right? Actually, wrong. We learn a lot from failing! Some of the best plans go through multiple iterations before you find the right fit. The important thing is to focus on improvement.

Below is a snapshot of the action plans I developed with my family:

Risk Root cause Treatment plan
Student A is concerned the school will employ a similar process (paper packets) and he will continue to fail. Student A learns better with verbal instructions and opportunities to ask questions. Iteration 1: Parent assists Student A in creating a schedule where Parent can review the instruction page with Student A and answer any questions up front. Student A then works on packets for 1 hour. If packet is not completed and/or student has questions, Student A asks Parent for assistance during Parent’s lunch break.
Iteration 2: If school changes format to online learning using Zoom, Student A will work with teacher on expectations and additional assistance.
Parent is concerned about Student B’s social and emotional well-being. Student B learns better when she can work in a group with her peers to solve problems. Student B is used to having a classroom of friends to support her. Iteration 1: Parent sets up an iPad for Student B to contact her friends.
Iteration 2: Teacher sets up breakout rooms in Zoom for collaboration.
Parent is concerned about internet bandwidth. Up to 7 people are using the wireless to learn and work from home. Iteration 1: Parent increases internet speeds and bandwidth. Parent moves router to offer wired connection to Parent’s laptop.
Iteration 2: Parent sets up router to support two bands- 2.4ghz and 5ghz. **
Iteration 3: Parent replaces older devices that might be bandwidth hogs.
Iteration 4: Parent coordinates a “no meeting” block during peak school hours with employer.

** The 2.4ghz network is slower but can reach further. However, 2.4 is very prone to interference (such as microwaves). The 5ghz network is faster, but the signal is weaker.

The final step in the action phase is to discuss the plan(s) with all parties involved. Being transparent with teachers and your employer will be key to your success. In our case, we spoke to each of our children’s teachers and expressed our concerns. In many cases, your child’s teachers can add a lot of value to the action plans. The same is true for your employer. When you surface issues constructively, it allows you to be proactive in your response plan.

4: Monitor

Now that you have your plans in place, you need to find a way to determine if they are working. In order to track your results, you need a measure of success. Remember when I said that each person’s risk appetite is different? The same is true with measures of success. In our case, we decided to measure our children’s success based on two factors: attendance in virtual classes and completion of assignments. For our high school and college-age children, we set a 90% attendance goal with a B average across all classes. For our elementary-age children, we set an 85% attendance goal; however, 95% of assignments must be turned in. Each child also set a “stretch” goal to address something particularly challenging from the Spring. For example, Student B struggles with reading and her progress was stunted due to lack of reading support during the spring semester. She set a personal goal to get back to the level she was at by the end of the first term.

As you can see, the principles of risk management can be pretty handy in the real world. As you work through these steps with your family, Keeping GitLab’s values CREDIT in mind can help guide the way.

  • Collaborate: No one can solve this alone.
  • Results: Focus on action and growth, not perfection.
  • Efficiency: Allow your kids self-learning opportunities, but step in when needed.
  • Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging: Build a safe community where everyone has input. This includes your family, their teachers, and your employer(s).
  • Iteration: We all will fail. At some point, something will go wrong. But that’s ok! Learn from it and reassess the plan. It’s ok to change the plan if it isn’t working.
  • Transparency: Openly discuss how your family is feeling about remote education and work. But remember, as the parent or caregiver, your tone will set the tone for the rest of the family. So be sure to be constructive and positive in your conversations. And, as cheesy as it sounds, print it out and post it! We have schedules, reminders, and signs posted all around our house to transparently communicate the expectations and ensure we are all working together to meet our collective goals.

Does this plan resonate with you? Have a suggestion I missed including? Please leave a comment, I’d love to iterate on my family’s approach!

Cover image by August de Richelieu on Pexels

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