While opinions differ greatly on the success of online education, the number of students signing online to complete their schoolwork from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic is up 68 per cent since March.
The Distance Learning launch earlier this month went well, according to an email statement from the Durham District School Board (DDSB) public relations department. The online program includes 1,167 operating D2L Classrooms and 9,616 Google Classrooms run by 4,676 teachers.
Students and teachers have been engaging virtually for weeks following the provincial government’s first announcement on March 13 that all Ontario schools would be closed. In anticipation of a longer closure, DDSB staff developed the Distance Learning platform. Once the province announced an extension of the school closure period on March 31 and the start of Distance Learning, the DDSB was well prepared to launch on April 6, the statement continues.
To help those students who were in need of technology support to be able to work from home, the DDSB implemented a technology deployment plan to assist those students. Approximately 4,000 Chromebooks have been distributed to students, bringing the total number provided to about 34,000.
As Internet access is also a challenge for some families, the DDSB has distributed its entire stock of portable internet devices. The DDSB says there are about 400 families remaining who require internet access and orders have been placed for families to receive these devices directly from the vendor.
“The DDSB is continuously seeking feedback from educators, parents and students about how they feel distance learning is progressing and how we can continue to support students and families during this time,” the statement reads.
The DDSB says distance learning will help encourage students to read, communicate and engage in authentic learning experiences while continuing to be physically active and mentally well. While it is not intended to replicate a full school day and will not be the same as in-class learning, students will be assigned work in their online classrooms and are expected to complete the minimum hours of work per week as outlined by the Ministry of Education.
It is designed to be flexible, as our students may be experiencing challenges in their home environments during the pandemic,” the statement continues.
Parent Tiffany and her husband are one of many sets of parents trying to navigate at-home schooling while many parents are also still working. Sherwood, mother of two boys ages five and six, says navigating the online learning system has been easy as both her and her husband have strong technology and computer skills.
“I [am liking] the SK lesson plans. They are exciting and fun – usually based off a theme that follows a well-defined process. I think the two educators in my youngest son’s class really put a lot of effort into making things fun, educational and exciting,” says Sherwood.
Sherwood says in general, she finds keeping her two boys entertained hasn’t been an issue since her boys value their spare time, however having to do school work at home has been difficult.
“School work is a little more difficult to keep them entertained with, but we’ve lost most of the routine they are used to from school,” says Sherwood. “We are trying our best, but the dynamics at home are very different than school. I worry my sons won’t be prepared for their next grade moving forward because of the impact of the schools being closed.”
The DDSB says distance learning is set up so that in the event the province extends the school closure period due to the pandemic, educators can continue to provide materials for students until the end of the school year.
The province announced schools will remain closed until at least May 31. The extension comes based on the expert advice from the Chief Medical Officer of Health and health officials of the government’s ongoing effort to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, according to a press release from the province.
“We will do whatever it takes to keep our students safe,” says Education Minister Stephen Lecce. “The government is taking a careful approach which provides our medical experts the time to review the modelling and make the best decision for the safety of our students and the future of learning.”
The DDSB notes that the school closures and distance learning system will not impact grades, report cards, or those students who are graduating this year.
All students will be receiving a mid-term grade near the end of April to give feedback on their progress. These reports will reflect the student’s progress as of March 13, unless they have since submitted work that improves that grade. This report will also be used to support the college/university applications of graduating students, the statement reads.
“No student’s assessment will be negatively impacted because of school closures or challenges with accessing distance learning during the pandemic,” says the DDSB.
The education minister echoes these remarks in the statement.
“Regardless of what transpires over the coming weeks, Ontario’s students will be able to complete their school year with confidence,” says Lecce. “In particular, for students in their final year, we are removing all impediments to ensure students graduate and pursue post-secondary education.”