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      08-27-2020, 01:03 PM   #1
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"Virtual" school experiences

I was curious to hear everyone's experiences regarding virtual school for those with students in K through 12 . Thoughts, insight, and even venting are welcome. Please keep any politics discussion out of this and push any strong COVID opinions you may have to the side. This discussion is simply to help those having to weather virtual school.

After a lot of going back and forth, our district in a somewhat affluent area of the Kansas City metro area, has elected to go virtual, at least initially. I have a 11 y/o daughter in elementary school and a 15 y/o son in high school. They will be starting virtual school on 9/9 or about 3 weeks later than normal. COVID hit during their spring break and they got 3 weeks off. The district decided to go virtual for the remainder of the 2019/2020 school year. The student's grades could not go down, but they could increase them through home work and virtual attendance. Overall, only about 30% of the students in district participated in virtual school. Though my kids had great grades, they did virtual school everyday. They said it was pretty bad in terms of execution and network connectivity.

With school going full on virtual and required attendance this go around, I see this being a monumental disaster in our district. I don't think the district administrators, though well funded, have a clue about the load of 25,000+ students and staff will have on their network. My son, who's very tech savvy, just laughs and says "no way will this end well".

Kids that don't attend will be truant, but what if they can't get online or there's issues on the district end though they don't or can't immediately recognize it? Well, that means us the parents have to deal with it and fight for our kids. What a mess. I've already heard of accounts from other parents in virtual school that the amount of daily emails from teachers and the districts is bonkers. The emails include web links, access codes, network is down/network is back, online virtual classes crashing, issues with audio, "use this link......never mind use this one", etc. Seeing that the parents are now also teachers, they're getting emailed as if they were the teacher.

My wife is in close contact with many of the teachers are my daughters school. The teachers don't see how it's going to work because district isn't set up for this. Our teachers are working in their class rooms and presenting virtually which is a good idea IMO. However, if they get sick or even have one of 20 various symptoms noted by the district, they are being told to quarantine for two weeks, COVID positive test or not. What?! If they quarantine, they can't teach from home. How the hell is a sub going to be able to sub for so long especially if a teacher, who's not really sick (i.e., very mild symptoms) has to sit out for so long? I don't get it.

I'm thankful that I've got older and independent kids. I could not imagine having younger kids because they are going to need an adult helping them constantly as it's essentially home schooling.

Hopefully I'm just being overly crusty and it will work out better than I'm expecting.
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      08-27-2020, 01:37 PM   #2
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Ask all those that tried to have Zoom sessions at the start of their school year. Particularly those on the East Coast.
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      08-27-2020, 02:22 PM   #3
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I'm an IT project coordinator for a company that works with several school districts across New England. In short, it's a cluster fuck, for a variety of reasons. The main one being you are expecting government and town employees to come up with a solution and make quick decisions in a system that is full of red tape and people who have been doing the same thing for 40 years and don't want to change.

There are too many angles where the system is flawed, funding and unions being some of the big ones. Many schools simply don't have the budgets and staffing to do what is required. A lot of the smaller districts are unable to provide adequate technology since they have been relying on outdated tech for years, and other larger districts are running into spacing issues because normally having that many kids in a certain area was never a big deal.

Most of the districts I estimate 3 weeks before they completely shut down again, and in many cases that is being generous. I could literally write 15 pages of bullet points that are issues schools don't have good solutions for which will end up getting them closed again.
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      08-27-2020, 03:54 PM   #4
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I'm an IT project coordinator for a company that works with several school districts across New England. In short, it's a cluster fuck, for a variety of reasons. The main one being you are expecting government and town employees to come up with a solution and make quick decisions in a system that is full of red tape and people who have been doing the same thing for 40 years and don't want to change.

There are too many angles where the system is flawed, funding and unions being some of the big ones. Many schools simply don't have the budgets and staffing to do what is required. A lot of the smaller districts are unable to provide adequate technology since they have been relying on outdated tech for years, and other larger districts are running into spacing issues because normally having that many kids in a certain area was never a big deal.

Most of the districts I estimate 3 weeks before they completely shut down again, and in many cases that is being generous. I could literally write 15 pages of bullet points that are issues schools don't have good solutions for which will end up getting them closed again.
Thank you for you input and I totally agree with everything you're saying. I fear this is what's going to happen in our district.

About 10% of our population is financially disadvantaged and many of these kids do not have parents that can or barely speak English. Many do not have adequate internet either other than their phones. The distinct has bought 500 hot spots to help these kids out. IMO, they're about 2,000 hot spots short.

I personally think that if you're going to do virtual school and you're not really set up for it, then you need to seriously dumb down the curriculum to the absolute bare minimum and no electives. Basically just math, reading, science, and social studies/history. Gym and art and teachers can hold virtual classes for those that want to attend. Everything else is self-directed.

The students that struggle, for one reason or another, are going to completely left behind in the virtual school setting. They need help and aren't going to get it. Same goes for the young kids that have parents that work and aren't at home.

I give it about two months before administrators and many of the parents that wanted virtual school only may reconsider their decision after seeing how these districts aren't able to offer a viable academic experience.
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      08-27-2020, 05:34 PM   #5
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I brought up the Zoom thing because on the first day for many school districts it was a total disaster as anyone who is in IT would have already predicted. There were massive outages.

On top of that there have been discussion of some school districts that still don't have enough laptops to hand out to students. Again this is not surprising either as I'm in IT sales into the Federal Government. Even the Feds are running into supply problems.

I've said it in other threads. These school officials had months to figure something out and base it purely on science. What we're finding out is they waited till the last minute and they're not basing their decisions on any science.

The school district my daughter is in waited till the last minute and also disregarded the wishes of parents to do a hybrid approach. I'm just glad we were not locked out of the private school program as there were only 3 slots left when we enrolled her. These private schools/daycare have been open the entire time since the shutdowns happened and not one of them have reported any out breaks or issues. These private institutions were able to figure it out.
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      08-27-2020, 05:45 PM   #6
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I apologize if another thread has already been created regarding parents and students experiences with virtual school. If there is one, can you please direct me to it?

I was curious to hear everyone's experiences regarding virtual school. Thoughts, insight, and even venting are welcome. Please keep any politics discussion out of this and push any strong COVID opinions you may have to the side. This discussion is simply to help those having to weather virtual school.

After a lot of going back and forth, our district in a somewhat affluent area of the Kansas City metro area, has elected to go virtual, at least initially. I have a 11 y/o daughter in elementary school and a 15 y/o son in high school. They will be starting virtual school on 9/9 or about 3 weeks later than normal. COVID hit during their spring break and they got 3 weeks off. The district decided to go virtual for the remainder of the 2019/2020 school year. The student's grades could not go down, but they could increase them through home work and virtual attendance. Overall, only about 30% of the students in district participated in virtual school. Though my kids had great grades, they did virtual school everyday. They said it was pretty bad in terms of execution and network connectivity.

With school going full on virtual and required attendance this go around, I see this being a monumental disaster in our district. I don't think the district administrators, though well funded, have a clue about the load of 25,000+ students and staff will have on their network. My son, who's very tech savvy, just laughs and says "no way will this end well".

Kids that don't attend will be truant, but what if they can't get online or there's issues on the district end though they don't or can't immediately recognize it? Well, that means us the parents have to deal with it and fight for our kids. What a mess. I've already heard of accounts from other parents in virtual school that the amount of daily emails from teachers and the districts is bonkers. The emails include web links, access codes, network is down/network is back, online virtual classes crashing, issues with audio, "use this link......never mind use this one", etc. Seeing that the parents are now also teachers, they're getting emailed as if they were the teacher.

My wife is in close contact with many of the teachers are my daughters school. The teachers don't see how it's going to work because district isn't set up for this. Our teachers are working in their class rooms and presenting virtually which is a good idea IMO. However, if they get sick or even have one of 20 various symptoms noted by the district, they are being told to quarantine for two weeks, COVID positive test or not. What?! If they quarantine, they can't teach from home. How the hell is a sub going to be able to sub for so long especially if a teacher, who's not really sick (i.e., very mild symptoms) has to sit out for so long? I don't get it.

I'm thankful that I've got older and independent kids. I could not imagine having younger kids because they are going to need an adult helping them constantly as it's essentially home schooling.

Hopefully I'm just being overly crusty and it will work out better than I'm expecting.

The bold part could have been written by me, it is exactly the same as where I live.

My BIGGEST beef was the teachers did NOT stick to the class schedule when going virtual after spring break. They just randomly picked a time to host an lecture and expected the students to be there. My son had numerous teachers use the same day and time for a class. He had 4 classes one day booked at the same time. All the teachers booked between noon and 3. Nobody had a morning class, not once.
I have no love for our teachers and their union here.
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      08-27-2020, 08:56 PM   #7
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I'm in college still so I can talk about the other side - I was sipping a beer and taking a nap in "class" today I'm loving it

If I were younger I probably would've been missing in-class classes, but as a super senior in his last semester I stopped caring a while ago
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      08-27-2020, 09:41 PM   #8
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My primary job duty is helping professors with online courses. I've seen awesome work and I've seen crap. There are several factors involved.

1. First and foremost is the platform. Zoom was never meant to be an online learning system. There are dedicated platforms for that, like Canvas, Moodle, D2L, etc. Even Teams is better for learning than Zoom, but Teams requires a pricey Microsoft agreement. I think if this remote learning goes on for much longer, you'll start seeing some decent integration between live sessions (Teams, Zoom, etc) and asynchronous platforms like Canvas, Moodle, and D2L. It's already starting.

2. Separate from but closely related to #1 is money, on both ends of the experience. School systems with money can afford high end Learning Management Systems (LMS). Likewise, households with decent incomes can afford nice machines for their kids and high speed internet. Having a good machine and fast internet is a game changer.

3. Instructors. I've seen many that adapted very quickly to moving online. Some did quite well and have set up superb courses that barely missed a beat over face-to-face (F2F). Others are slowly learning the ropes and getting better at it. And then there are some who simple cannot or will not pick up the knowledge needed to go from chalkboard-and-homework style lectures to online instruction. In a school system with decent resources, the difference between quality courses and junk correspondence-style courses usually comes down to the instructor.

4. The students themselves. Some students do much better in a F2F environment than online. Some of that is the difference between a classroom atmosphere and home life. In a household with numerous kids where maybe each kid does not have his/her own machine, online learning can be a nightmare. This past spring I had to work nights with a student who had no choice but to take all his classes and exams at night because he was home with his younger siblings who needed the one PC they had for classes all day. This goes back to #2 where household income can play a big part. And to some kids a computer screen is just another TV, and anything on it can get to be old and boring in short time. This is especially true the younger the student is.

5. Probably the least important but still significant factor is the course itself. Let's face it, chemistry experiments just aren't the same when you're not doing them yourself. Same thing goes for a lot of things like music, art, theater, natural sciences, etc. Hands-on work is crucial to many fields.

TLDR: There are a lot of factors when it comes to quality online courses vs junk. But don't paint all online learning with the same brush. There are some really good online programs out there.
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      08-27-2020, 10:52 PM   #9
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Fairfax County, VA had a dedicated online learning system that was an abysmal failure when they rolled over to it after the shutdowns. Those that are aware of the DC Metro area know that Fairfax County is not a poor county. What did the school officials do when they met to discuss the epic fail of their online system? They chose to point fingers at the vendor instead of owning their fail. Because apparently, the vendor had documentation that they told Fairfax to implement needed patches well before this pandemic they chose to ignore.

I'm only talking through the lens of my daughter who is entering kindergarten. To expect online to even be remotely beneficial for kids that age is wishful thinking. Lost in all these hap hazard blanket decisions is the significant impacts it presents for very young children which require in class learning or special ed students. I'm sucking up the cost of paying for private school that I didn't expect to pay to make sure my daughter has the proper education. I'm just fortunate that I can pay for it. Many can't and I feel for those parents. And because these school systems didn't do their job and come up with a plan early enough, they've put many parents in the situation where even if they had the financial resources have been locked out of private schools due to them being at capacity.
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      08-27-2020, 11:19 PM   #10
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A child of kindergarten age is simply not equipped to succeed in an online environment no matter how good the system (not that I'm defending Fairfax Co.). A child of that age has an attention span of seconds or minutes at best, and like I said above, a computer screen is just another TV. I feel for people with young children. My colleague, who does the same job as I do, has a young son who was supposed to start pre-school this fall. Now the school system went online and my colleague is trying to negotiate WFH privileges (yes, it's a privilege in academia) so he can be home in the mornings and work with his son to keep him focused on the online classroom. This whole issue of online vs F2F classes is a no-win situation when it comes to young children. There is no good solution.
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      08-28-2020, 12:10 AM   #11
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I beg to differ. There is a solution. Get them back into the classroom. Of all the children that needs to have in class instruction, it is these young kids. The older kids can get by with going online. These young ones cannot. With the older kids out of the picture with needing to be accommodated physically in the classroom, there is plenty of space to have the young kids to be in school and spaced appropriately.

As I said, the day care/private school I have my daughter in for pre-k and now kindergarten has been able to figure out how to operate physically. They've been open without any breaks since this whole shutdown happened. How come they can figure out a plan that is working and school systems with bigger budgets and more staffing can't plan their way out of a wet paper bag?
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      08-28-2020, 01:37 AM   #12
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My experience has been mostly what has been mentioned. Way too many emails, apps that don't work, less instruction than face to face, passwords and info that is wrong and has to be updated, vague instructions/schedules. I have time to focus on it, but I can see how it's not really workable with two working parents. Hoping the school's waiver request goes through soon and they can start on campus again.
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      08-28-2020, 07:33 AM   #13
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I should probably keep my yap shut, having been personally and professionally involved with inventing online learning in the late 1980's alongside the chair of a college division that teaches the K-12 teachers both undergrad and grad.

Our conclusions at the time were that K-12 kids were not mature/responsible enough to properly learn in an asynchronous online format, unless there was an adult physically in the room making sure they were engaged with the lesson. We also determined that synchronous (video) was no better for that age group. It also didn't work well with one teacher linked to two or more remote classrooms, and it was usually better to send a teacher in person to the remote facilities rather than have an aide babysitting each remote room. No union or grant money involved, just a bunch of college professors who legitimately tried to make it work.

Four years ago, I was enlisted to assist the tech person at a local private K-6 school near where I work set up a Google Apps for Education site for their school. Their plan was to use it as a conduit between the *parents* and teachers, to engage the parents in their child's education by sending their daily homework and some helpful parent-targeted study guides for the day's topics. It was a BRILLIANT move on her part, since she sneakily got teacher buy-in to use the platform and most of the private school's parents were already seeking ways to be more involved with their child's education.

Long story short, I received a heart-warming email back in April from that school's principal, that I will surely print/frame and hang on my office wall when we are required to go back to the salt mines. She thanked me for volunteering my time to help get them started with Google Apps. Their school (and every other K-12 in the region) had to transition from classroom instruction to 100% online over a weekend. Because the parents and teachers were already used to working with Google Apps (and all of the students' accounts were in place and being used by their parents), they were the only school in the area that didn't miss a single day of classes when they had to transition to online.....
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      08-28-2020, 08:48 AM   #14
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TLDR: There are a lot of factors when it comes to quality online courses vs junk. But don't paint all online learning with the same brush. There are some really good online programs out there.
I agree, but the only issue with your statements is that you are dealing with a completely different environment. The first line of your response is that your job is to help professors with online courses. That is 100% different than what most people on here will be dealing with, which is public school systems. I've worked in the university environment as well, and they have almost unlimited funding in comparison. Universities base their tuition on making a profit, so for the most part their operating costs which go towards instructing students (among other things) are covered, which allows them to explore and implement better online options. With public schools it is almost the opposite, they are given a set budget (usually less than last year) and told you must teach students with these allotted resources. In many of the schools I work with, they upgrade some of their teaching tools every year, but technology has been on the back burner in many districts because they view it as a necessity that is needed for basic function, not an investment. This is why we are seeing the problems we are when they are forced overnight to go virtual.
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      08-28-2020, 09:04 AM   #15
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Here in DM they are also doing 100% virtual and starting kids in school 9/8. We thankfully have a program where the school district pays for internet for any family that cannot afford it (partnered with a local internet company) and is going 1-1 (every student will be provided a personal computer) but I am still expecting a cluster. They are going full online for all grades, which I can't imagine elementary working well. They also instructed the teachers that they cannot ask or require students to use the camera. The kids can just join and then do whatever they want pretty much it seems. As if the US educational system wasn't behind already, this is going to be a major setback IMO.
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      08-28-2020, 10:50 AM   #16
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I agree, but the only issue with your statements is that you are dealing with a completely different environment. The first line of your response is that your job is to help professors with online courses. That is 100% different than what most people on here will be dealing with, which is public school systems. I've worked in the university environment as well, and they have almost unlimited funding in comparison. Universities base their tuition on making a profit, so for the most part their operating costs which go towards instructing students (among other things) are covered, which allows them to explore and implement better online options. With public schools it is almost the opposite, they are given a set budget (usually less than last year) and told you must teach students with these allotted resources. In many of the schools I work with, they upgrade some of their teaching tools every year, but technology has been on the back burner in many districts because they view it as a necessity that is needed for basic function, not an investment. This is why we are seeing the problems we are when they are forced overnight to go virtual.
This is a good point and I have clarified the first post in this thread to be more guided towards K-12 and not college.

I can see college working fairly well online for most, at least in the short term. I'd be pissed though spending major cash for online college.
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      08-28-2020, 07:20 PM   #17
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I agree, but the only issue with your statements is that you are dealing with a completely different environment. The first line of your response is that your job is to help professors with online courses. That is 100% different than what most people on here will be dealing with, which is public school systems. I've worked in the university environment as well, and they have almost unlimited funding in comparison. Universities base their tuition on making a profit, so for the most part their operating costs which go towards instructing students (among other things) are covered, which allows them to explore and implement better online options. With public schools it is almost the opposite, they are given a set budget (usually less than last year) and told you must teach students with these allotted resources. In many of the schools I work with, they upgrade some of their teaching tools every year, but technology has been on the back burner in many districts because they view it as a necessity that is needed for basic function, not an investment. This is why we are seeing the problems we are when they are forced overnight to go virtual.
Oh, I know there's a big difference. I've seen schools in some of the poorer Chicago areas where the teachers supplied most of the classroom material out of their own paychecks. And then other schools where every kid has a laptop. The difference between school systems in this state is mind boggling sometimes. That said, the university where I work is run on a shoe-string budget when it comes to IT. The U of I up the road has the bucks to run a great online system with lots of support. We do what we can with what little we have.
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      08-28-2020, 08:14 PM   #18
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I've worked in the university environment as well, and they have almost unlimited funding in comparison.
Boy, would I love to work at *that* school! Et tu, M_Six?

FWIW, I actually had to buy my own $600 portable office air conditioner, because there was no money in the facilities budget to replace/repair the central air unit in our office suite...for FOUR years in a row.....
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      08-29-2020, 01:13 PM   #19
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Boy, would I love to work at *that* school! Et tu, M_Six?

FWIW, I actually had to buy my own $600 portable office air conditioner, because there was no money in the facilities budget to replace/repair the central air unit in our office suite...for FOUR years in a row.....
For real. My desktop machine in my university office is a Dell Optiplex 7050 that I bought so I wouldn't have to use a 9 year old leftover box from some lab. Some profs are getting thin client machines that suck for online meetings.
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      08-29-2020, 02:31 PM   #20
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For real. My desktop machine in my university office is a Dell Optiplex 7050 that I bought so I wouldn't have to use a 9 year old leftover box from some lab. Some profs are getting thin client machines that suck for online meetings.
My emergency on-call (now WFH) machine is a 2011-vintage Lenovo T520, with dog-slow rotating media storage and a stylish "Made for Windows 7" sticker on the screen bezel. I just took it out of the carrying bag to look...and dust off. You already know the story about how I dropped a large chunk of my own coin last spring to buy my own WFH 16" MacBook Pro, with 16 gigs of RAM and 8 cores of Intel i9 CPU goodness.

My desktop back in the office is a 5-year-old 21.5" iMac, base model, rotating media storage, and no retina display. When nobody was looking one day, I popped the screen open and swapped the rotating rust disk for a proper SSD that I personally bought. I also doubled the RAM. If it ever looks like we are going back to the office full-time, I should probably drop the $4,500 for a 10-core 27" iMac Pro while they are still available with Intel CPU chips...to hopefully last me through retirement.

Funny story from last year. The guy who was in charge of the PC/desktop shop was in my office for something, and he noticed that my iMac's keyboard was not factory Apple or the institution's standard throwaway $12 PC keyboards. He complimented me on getting it, asked me how I slipped the $159 purchase past the bean counters. I flipped it over, handed it to him, and asked if he saw an institution asset tag on the bottom? The only thing there was a label that said it was my personal property. I told him that I spend more time at that keyboard than I do with my wife on work days, and there was no way that I was going to type on a $12 keyboard.....
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      08-29-2020, 04:35 PM   #21
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My mid-2012 27" iMac bit the dust (although I might still try a new SSD to see if I can resurrect it), so I ordered a mid-2020 27" iMac with the 8-core i7 and 16GB RAM, plus the 1TB SSD. After I ordered it the rep tells me he'll send me an email when he gets a delivery date. Says it should be about two weeks. I said, "The delivery date?" He says, "No, the email." Argh!!!
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      08-29-2020, 05:28 PM   #22
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After I ordered it the rep tells me he'll send me an email when he gets a delivery date. Says it should be about two weeks. I said, "The delivery date?" He says, "No, the email." Argh!!!
As with everything Apple, varying one bit from their standard offerings into a custom build adds weeks to the delivery time. If you'll take that same machine with half the RAM and SSD, you can pick it up tomorrow at our closest Apple store...for $2,099 academic price...and get a free pair of AirPods on the back to school promotion. Any customization pushes delivery out to the third week of September.

That being said, I maxed out a custom-order 11" 2013 Macbook Air back in the day. It took almost a month to drop-ship from China, and let me tell you that computer is still 100% usable and relevant today. I miss it a lot, and would probably still be using it today if I didn't have a sibling going through hard times break their ancient Macbook and gift it to them in 2017.....
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