Schools utilize remote learning during pandemic
Classrooms across the country may be empty, but school is still in session at Madison-Ridgeland Academy and Jackson Prep as they ramp up online learning.
At MRA, distance learning technology locks down students' browsers to the test and monitors eye movement to insure someone isn't feeding them answers.
Shortly before noon Wednesday, Prep posted on its Facebook page, "Remote learning at Jackson Prep has begun! #PREPared."
Madison County Schools suspended classes for two weeks, delayed report cards and announced Monday it would roll out optional, non-graded enrichment materials online Wednesday to keep students engaged and would begin sharing classwork via distance learning starting Monday, March 23.
In a release from the school district, Superintendent Charlotte Seals said teachers would share classwork via the web, email and hard copies to keep the regular school curriculum going forward and that principals will communicate with parents concerning different ways students can access these materials.
The distance learning, she said, would be required classwork.
"It is vitally important that we continue moving the mark together so that our students stay on track with their studies," Seals wrote. "Even while school buildings are closed."
Canton Public Schools, which has an "assignments" tab on the school district's home page, had already assigned classwork for dozens of courses for March 16-20.
Superintendent Gary Hannah thanked parents for their patience and cooperation in a letter Tuesday, pledging to keep them updated as changes occur.
Jackson Prep was set to begin its distance learning Wednesday utilizing Google applications. Jackson Academy's latest announcement said it would have information on its own distance learning program by Friday, March 20 and would resume teaching on Monday, March 23.
Thanks to years of careful planning and a push to integrate technology into everyday lessons, students at MRA are still getting online instruction from teachers through a distance learning program, despite the physical school being closed due to the threat of COVID-19, commonly referred to as the coronavirus.
Elementary students are still singing along with the music teacher. Physical education teachers are sending their students workouts and other activities they can do alone at home. Seniors in microbiology are learning about pandemics as they switch between following real-time lectures and watching the news on television.
"Our goal in the short term is to keep the students involved and keep them engaged," MRA Head of School Termie Land said Tuesday. "This was really a relatively easy step for us to take."
Years ago, MRA started a push toward technology integration in the classrooms. Students use a learning management program called CANVAS to track assignments, due dates and learning benchmarks.
Adding lecture videos, technology was an easy step.
They didn't stop there, either. MRA already has the technology in place to have students take exams online.
There's a program that locks down students' browsers so they can only have one browser window open at a time (the test) and another that monitors students through the camera on the school-issued lap top, mapping their eye movement to insure someone off-camera isn't feeding them answers.
"We don't think any of our students would take advantage of the situation," Bramuchi said. "But we do have that technology."
MRA also uses another program called Rubicon Atlas to map its curriculum. Each teacher in the school charts their lessons in detail, so the next teacher to encounter the student can search the database and know everything he or she has, or should have, learned before.
Matt Bramuchi, who teaches biochemistry and heads both the science department and technology committee at MRA, said that program has proved vital to the faculty.
"If we see that our students need to brush up on Excel, for example, we can search ‘Excel' in the program and it will tell us not only what grade they learned those skills, but what time of the year that lesson was given," Bramuchi said. "It has helped us to bridge gaps that might have gone unabridged in the past."
But even with the technology, Land said the seemingly seamless transition would not have been possible without buy-in from the faculty.
"The thing that's been so exciting for me is to see how our teachers have accepted this challenge," Land said. "They've been very positive and continue to provide our academic programs. When (the students) come back, we're confident they'll be ready to keep going and achieve all of our academic goals for the school year."