Students across the country are logging into school for e-learning due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Bibb County School District has implemented a pair of distance learning programs: E-learning for students who have access to the internet, as well as assignment packets for those who do not. Most students will participate in e-learning, and district leaders hope to improve online access for students without reliable internet.
The transition from in the desk to the virtual classroom has been made easier because some schools already had technology in place. That’s a good thing, because Gov. Brian Kemp has ordered all public schools to close their physical campuses through at least April 24.
Rose Powell, the executive director of technology for the Bibb County School District, said the district beg putting laptops and tablets in the hands of every student in the system over the past two years. That district plans to finish that “one-to-one technology initiative” over the next two-to-three years, Powell said.
“In order for us to be successful in roll out of one-to-one, we have had to already have these things in place,” she said “Our schools have been dedicated to doing that. So we have been working in this direction the last couple of years; we are in a very good position today in these unforeseen circumstances.”
Bibb County has implemented an online dashboard called Classlink, which students use daily in the classroom.
Powell said some high school teachers were already managing many of their assignments through the dashboard. Elementary and middle school students are at least familiar with Classlink but may not have been using it.
Classlink allows students to see teacher feedback on their work in real time. The program also allows the schools to track attendance. Teachers can speak with students directly through a chat.
“Teachers are going to be responsive to the students learning as we move along,” Powell said. “The good thing about the e-learning is that the student and the teacher are in the same class notebook at the same time. A teacher will be able to quickly see who has completed the assignments and who hasn’t.”
ACADEMY FOR CLASSICAL EDUCATION
In 2014, The Academy for Classical Education (ACE) opened it doors and, from the very beginning, the school has emphasized using technology in classrooms.
Andrea Smith, a fourth-grade teacher at ACE, said that the school staff felt like they were prepared for online instruction, thanks in part to the Desire to Learn (D2L) platform.
“All of our students especially in junior high and high school use [D2L] on a daily basis,” Smith said. “Teachers post lesson plans, there are discussion boards, we post assignments on there. Our junior high and high school students can submit assignments through Dropbox.”
ACE accustoms elementary students to the platform so they’re comfortable using it in middle and high school. Smith said each week she posts her lesson plans, a snapshot of what the homework will look like and any instructional materials she uses during class.
ACE’s experience with D2L has made the transition to online learning in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak easier for teachers and students. Teachers also are using video lessons and Zoom, a video-conferencing application, to communicate with students. A weekly guide helps students (and their parents) stay on track.
Smith also has two children in ACE — in seventh and tenth grade — and she added their online work has been user-friendly.
“While I am teaching my fourth graders online, I am also kind of monitoring their work as well,” she said. “Other than they kind of need me to remind them to get started, they have been able to jump in and go. … So far it is going OK for all of us.”
Even though the normal learning environment has been disrupted, students are still learning.
“My first priority was to really make sure it was easy and user-friendly for my students and to let them know that even though the building was closed, school wasn’t out,” Smith said. “I think that they really needed to know that we were going to figure this out together.”
While the unexpected and sudden shifts have unsettled teachers and students across the country, Smith said teachers are used to having to adapt to changing circumstances.
“I think our day-to-day lives as teachers really equipped us for this,” she said. “Nothing ever really goes to plan in a classroom.”