By DAVE SCHWAB | Uptown News
Now that all California schools have been closed for the remainder of the academic year due to COVID-19, San Diego Unified School District’s approximately 6,000 teachers and more than 121,000 students have been forced to more quickly adapt to online education.
SDUSD had a soft opening for its new online system involving numerous teaching platforms on April 6. The district is going completely online following completion of student and staff instruction on Monday, April 27.
“We’ve been transitioning into the virtual distance learning online platform making sure students have their devices (computers) up and ready to go,” said Ernie Remillard, Mission Bay High School principal. “Many teachers have used online learning to a degree in their classrooms, so it’s been more about enhancing the capabilities of teachers on my staff.
“We’re in the soft launch of distance learning. None of the work being done by kids right now is being graded. It will be starting the 29th.”
MBHS English and social sciences instructor John Keast, who teaches ninth and 12th grades, is one of many teachers getting enhanced instruction on the Canvas and other online learning systems. He claims it was an idea whose time was coming, even before now.
“Canvas is used in community colleges, state universities, the UC system, and nation- and worldwide,” said Keast.“I’ve actually been beating the drum on this for the last two years, putting all my work online as a practical matter.”
Keast added numerous of his students were taking week-long sports breaks from their studies, which necessitated his putting their assignments online “I told them, ‘It’s your job to check what you missed,’” he said.
The district’s online education soft launch has thus far focused on familiarizing teachers with online delivery for their lesson plans, and engaging students in a meaningful way before graded instruction resumes April 27. All classes are designed to help teachers navigate the wide range of online tools available.
Roughly 30 different instructional classes have been offered daily to assist teachers in operating their new online classrooms, drilling down into programs including SeeSaw, Canvas, and Google Classroom. Training in the various software allows a teacher to identify what program matches best with their classroom-teaching style, and with the needs of their students.
The district-wide effort is being led by resource teachers from the Instructional Technology Department, as well as 20 classroom teachers. This “teachers-training-teachers” approach allows for efficient instruction and sharing of best practices in a more familiar setting.
A parent of two Mission Bay High students, a junior and a freshman, who did not want to be named, said the homeschooling experience “has been probably more hands-off than others. One of my kids is on Zoom most mornings and some afternoons, and when he isn’t, he is pretty inundated with schoolwork, as he usually is.”
The parent said it hasn’t been too tough of a transition for her eldest boy, for whom, “Life has just continued from home instead of physically in the classroom.” But for her younger son, “It is a different story. He has had a bit of work from some teachers via the Canvas/Google classroom/Schoology apps and others. But he has had to supplement on his own due to next-to-no communication.
“It has been frustrating as there are days where he doesn’t have much at all. Hopefully, that will change in the coming days as the teachers get up to speed. This is a new experience for all of us, and all and all, they seem to be happy and adapting.”
Keast pointed out distance learning has other pluses.
“Being self-paced, that’s an advantage because when you have class time, a lot of students get left behind, they just can’t keep up,” he said. “Another main advantage is that I can riddle my online assignments with hyperlinks to make sure they understand things. It’s a much more comprehensive way to address skill-building activities because nothing gets left out.”
Added Keast of online instruction: “Overall, having a database of online learning resources, which are subject-specific, is a way to increase the amount of teaching time – and decrease paperwork – that you do. Kids don’t have to hall around 60-pound backpacks full of books and binders. That’s unsustainable – and it’s over.”
The drawbacks of online education?
“Suddenly, there is a class divide with access to devices (computers),” said Keast, adding, “The district made a smart decision to make computers available to all our kids.”
— Dave Schwab can be reached at email@example.com.