Thursday, January 20, 2022

Virtual learning problems: Here’s how local school divisions plan to handle them

(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Unsplash)
(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Unsplash)

The school year is right around the corner.

Well, sort of.

There will be no high-fives from school officials welcoming students back for at least the first few weeks as districts op to go virtual because of coronavirus concerns.

As local school divisions embrace online learning, there also comes concerns about online safety and the physical effects of staring at a computer screen for too long.

So how will the York County School Division and Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools help their students deal with social isolation, eye strain, cyberbullying — and providing hot spots so students can access school assignments online?

So far, an issue already affecting school districts nationwide is device shortages. York County School Division on Monday announced their distribution schedule for elementary school students, but because of shipping delays, the devices for middle and high school students were just received and still need to be set up.

As for equal WiFi access, Katherine Goff, spokeswoman for the the school division, said “this division is working with both the Cox Connect2Compete program as well as Verizon Wireless to provide internet access as necessary. We do not anticipate any problems with helping all students who need assistance.”

WJCC spokeswoman Eileen Cox said parents or families who need WiFi hotspots can fill out a form, send it to the school, which is then sent to the IT department.

The hotspots or “MiFis” are first come, first serve at the moment.

In addition, WJCC is also sharing resources and recommendations for parents to get WiFi access through open houses and phone calls. Some suggestions include parents using the extended WiFi at libraries and the school neighborhood vehicles to checking out Cox Cable’s $10 a month internet service and asking cellphone providers if they are giving hotspots.

Canvas and Zoom experienced outages recently on the first day of school, according to the New York Times.

So what happens if the learning system, Canvas, fails or has some glitches?

WJCC has a plan for that.

Cox said they have two platforms: StudentVUE and Canvas. Each student logs into the main StudentVUE page known as the teacher landing page which shows teacher announcements and links to Canvas.

So if Canvas were to experience an outage, teachers would direct middle and high school students to their landing page and just post the assignments there. Elementary students would not be affected since they use the teacher’s StudentVUE page and not Canvas.

Virtual learning will look different depending on the grade level but for elementary students who usually start their class every day with a morning meeting on the carpet, teachers will have “live” version of the morning meeting instead.

All students will have activities to help them get to know each other and their classmates and at the end of the day, have a follow up meeting, Cox added.

“Our students aren’t actually going to be online for the duration of every day,” Cox said.

There are “live, synchronous instruction opportunities” as well as independent activities.

For example, students could have a class scheduled for an hour but actually have a small group instruction portion lasting 20 minutes with the remainder of the hour dedicated to an activity such as paper crafts or an assignment.

On Fridays, the student assignments might look a bit different.

“A lot of the assignments are going to focus on social and emotional learning and activities and projects just to try and keep folks engaged,” Cox said.

Another way students can get the social interaction they may crave during the pandemic is joining school clubs which will begin a few weeks after school starts.

But internet access is only the tip of the virtual learning iceberg.

Cyberbullying is another issue.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice, about 20% of students between 12 and 18 experience bullying. Of that number, 15% of students said they were bullied online or by text.

Now that students will be spending their school days virtually, how is the statistics for cyberbullying going to be affected? And what are schools doing to fix the problem?

Goff said teachers are the first line of watch for cyberbullying. Using the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports framework,  “teachers and schools are asked to create classroom behavior expectation matrices that discuss expectations for student behavior during remote learning.”

If teachers see or receive a report of bullying, then school administrators step in to handle the situation under guidance from the student handbook.

“WJCC schools-issued devices all bring students back under our network and under our filters,” Cox said, adding the security system and virus software is included.

Those laptops also limit student access to certain websites.

“It’s the same if they were using a laptop in one of our classrooms,” Cox said.

Students and families who have experienced any type of bullying throughout the year can submit an online form which is sent to the school.

“Bullying is intentional, repeated, aggressive and unwanted behavior, physical, psychological or emotional, that is intended to harm, intimidate or humiliate the victim; involves a real or perceived power imbalance between the aggressor(s) and victim, which occurs over a period of time or causes severe emotional trauma,” according to the WJCC Student Code of Conduct. “Bullying includes cyberbullying. Bullying does not include ordinary teasing, horseplay, argument or peer conflict.”

WJCC defines cyberbullying as a form of bullying which uses technology such as text messages, cellphone, email and “defamatory websites” to deliberately harm other people.

“Cyberbullying using the WJCC network, WJCC computers or other wireless communication devices in schools, on school property or at school-related activities will result in disciplinary action,” according to the WJCC handbook. “Cyberbullying that occurs off school grounds and/or does not include the use of WJCC network or computers may also result in disciplinary action if it causes or is likely to cause a substantial disruption to the school environment or violate the rights of students, staff or teachers.”

WYDaily asked Cox in an email how the school division defines “ordinary teasing.”

“Our Code of conduct includes a chart on page 7 captioned “How Can I Tell If It is Bullying” which helps delineate between conflict, rude or mean behavior and bullying,” she wrote in an email. “Ordinary teasing would fall under conflict or rude or mean behavior.”

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