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What ‘remote learning’ will look like during COVID-19

With public and private schools in Illinois ordered closed, some may switch to remote learning. How will going to school online work?

The four-year program, known as “Chicago Connected,” is being paid for by a slew of donors, including: hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin ($7.5 million); Crown Family Philanthropies ($5 million); Chicago Community COVID Response Fund administered by the Chicago Community Trust and United Way of Metro Chicago ($2.5 million); Illinois Tool Works ($2 million); the Pritzker Traubert Foundation ($1.5 million); the JPB Foundation ($500,000); and the Joyce Foundation ($250,000).
With all Illinois schools closed, students may be switching to online learning.
AP file

With all public and private schools in Illinois ordered closed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, students can expect to switch to online, remote learning for awhile.

Here’s what that means and what to expect.

“Online learning, or virtual schools, are a way for students to be able to participate just like they would in a traditional classroom,” said John Baker, CEO of Desire2Learn, an online learning platform that caters to students in kindergarten to university around the world.

Desire2Learn is used by 2 million people in the United States, but Baker expects that to rise to 10 million with mass school closures.

“Our teachers have, for some time now, utilized online platforms to deepen the learning of students,” said Dr. Laurie Fiorenza, director of student learning for Oak Park and River Forest High School.

Virtual teaching platforms, such as Desire2Learn, Zoom, Canvas, Google Classroom and Panopto, can simulate an in-person classroom through live class discussions, video presentations and recorded class lectures.

Fiorenza said teachers are allowed to use a variety of online learning platforms pre-approved by the school district.

Her high school will have an online learning day on Monday; all students are expected to complete attendance procedures by 10 a.m. through their school-provided Chromebooks, and those without WIFI will have access to personal hotspots.

After Pritzker announced all schools would be closed, but that online learning could continue, OPRF said it would let parents know plans for the rest of next week by Monday night. The district’s spring break starts the week after that anyway.

Thanks to snow day cancellations, “we have already been having conversations about how [online learning] would be supported,” Fiorenza said. “While the timeline was much more crunched ... I do think that we were probably more prepared.”

Higher education will also take place online; at DePaul University, for example, all final exams and a majority of classes for Spring Quarter will be virtual.

In a letter to DePaul faculty, Interim Provost Salma Ghanem suggested the use of Zoom conferencing, video recording and testing through Desire to Learn to get through finals. When taking exams, Ghanem suggested removing multiple-choice questions and randomizing the test formats to prevent cheating.

While DePaul offers a range of online and in-person courses, the university states it will offer online multiple online webinars in March to ensure all faculty working during Spring Quarter know how to teach remotely.

For Oak Park Elementary School District 97, however, this experiment with remote learning breaks new ground.

A statement from District 97 made clear that “remote learning (E-learning) will take place at home to provide the continuation of learning in students’ coursework without interruption, with both digital and non-digital items.”

Free or reduced-cost meals will still be available to eligible students and can be picked up at Oak Park and River Forest High School.

There was, however, no information about child-care options for parents who still need to report to work outside the home.

Chicago Public Schools are also closed from March 17 to March 30.

The district isn’t able to offer full-fledged online classes; in a statement, however, CPS said schools will send home “enrichment resources and materials” in both physical and online formats. CPS will also provide each student meals for three days— available for pickup at any public school.

As demand for online learning platforms hits an all-time high in the U.S., Baker anticipates some problems.

“Our whole approach from a design perspective is to design for failures,” Baker said. “We design our systems to be highly resilient to problems ... so a component would just shut down rather than taking everything down.”

“The last thing we want is to have a recession in education for students,” Baker said. “They will never get that knowledge back.”