It is now June, and at this point we hope that most of you are done with school and have finished making up your extra school days due to inclement weather this winter. Rather than shortening your summer break in the future we want you to be able to extend it by showing you how schools have implemented virtual learning days.
It was a pleasure talking with Krasandra Holmes, Digital Learning Specialist, and Aleigha Henderson-Rosser, Director of Instructional Technology, at Atlanta Public Schools in Georgia about how they implemented virtual learning days this winter. Read the Q&A below to see how they’ve ensured successful learning even during the polar vortex.
Q: What initiated your desire to create virtual learning days?
A: We were sitting at home on the second round of snow days. We were out for a long period of time and our Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction said that we really needed a way to make up these days. Tacking days onto the calendar wasn’t boding well with students and parents. The question was posed – is there anything we can do virtually?
Q: Do these days count as full days of school?
A: It does count as a full day, but only because we have a full virtual environment.
Q: How do you go about getting approval for these days? Are there certain requirements in GA?
A: Our virtual learning proposal was part of a larger proposal that we sent to the state department. The proposal we sent in only covered the high school students so we also had to think about our elementary and middle school students. We got the proposal approved and are now able to use our virtual learning environment to offer virtual learning days for all grade levels.
Q: How did you go about announcing virtual learning days? What tools did you use to announce it?
A: We worked with the communications department and put together a flier that was translated into Spanish that included details about the virtual learning days. A vendor sent home fliers to the families. We put an announcement up on our main website and a team of our technology specialists provided a complete overview to all teachers.
Q: What tools did you use to implement these virtual learning days?
A: We have a tool called “My Backpack which has a Connected Classroom component” that links directly to our Blackboard learning management system. We have a landing page within Blackboard that specifically addresses what the expectations for virtual learning days are. We offered a demo class for parents, so the parents could experience what the students would experience on the virtual learning days. The purpose of the “Connected Classroom” is to extend the walls of the classroom past the learning days. We had the tools ready to go because we have a virtual school, but we had yet to roll it out to our district. These snow days were a perfect way to embrace virtual learning in brick-and-mortar classrooms.
Q: What content did teachers have to create to make these virtual learning days successful?
A: Teachers are able to use the content in the Georgia Virtual High School program and can simply download content from the website. We also work closely with our curriculum content coordinators and digital learning specialists who align content to specific standards and subjects that teachers have to address during the snow days. The teachers can then go in and access the content that the curriculum content coordinators and digital learning specialists put into a folder for them to push out to their students. Finally, teachers have the option to add their own content.
Q: What were the student and parent responses to these virtual learning days?
A: When our middle school students logged into the Blackboard learning management system they were so excited about the connected classroom and how the content was laid out for them to complete on their own time, on their own devices. They were on board from the beginning. The teachers were asking, “Where has this been all my life?” They liked how the content was laid out with all the standards and digital pieces of content. The parents were excited to be able to monitor and support their students without needing to look all over the place for the content. The demo course also made them feel confident. We did however face one obstacle – digital access. Some of our families don’t have smartphones or laptops. We are looking to donate some old phone to these families. To resolve this issue temporally we had a homework hotline team that would provide printed versions of the content to students.
Q: What advice would you give schools/districts that have yet to implement virtual learning days?
A: If you are really looking to provide the most cutting edge and individualized differentiated instruction you are going to have to get on board. It no longer will be an option to do blended learning, but an expectation. However, it’s important for learning to come first, then content, and then tools.
Be sure to sign up for the webinar on September 30th at 2pm EST to see how your school or district can prepare for virtual learning days.
Contact us here for more information.