GLEN ELLYN – E-learning will be a big component of education this year, and Glenbard Township High School District 87 believes it is prepared for the change despite a group of concerned parents who feel differently.
One parent involved with the concerned parent group, organized on Facebook under D87 We Can Do Better, said the group believes the district’s spring e-learning plan lacked accountability and rigor for students. As such, the parent said the group is concerned that e-learning will lack substance.
Members of the parent group contacted Suburban Life via email, but asked that they not be identified.
Superintendent David Larson said the end of the past academic year was difficult because the transition from classroom to e-learning happened quickly, but the district has had more time to prepare for the 2020-21 school year.
“Our students will receive a quality education, even though it’s a little different than what we’re all used to,” Larson said. “We believe we have quality remote learning.”
Larson said when the district created its back-to-school plan there was significant focus on maximizing how much direct instruction students would receive. As the district’s plan stands, students can expect about 75% direct instruction, regardless if they are participating in the hybrid or fully virtual plan, he said.
Direct instruction refers to time when a student is learning directly from a teacher, whether through livestream or in person.
New vocabulary that parents may hear include the distinction between synchronous and asynchronous classes. Synchronous classes are those that will be taught in real time. Asynchronous learning refers to assignments students will complete on their own – out of sync with their teacher and classmates.
If a student has chosen to attend remotely this year, they still will be participating in class in real time with synchronous learning, which will be the foundation of their education under the district’s plan.
Technology will be paramount, and Larson said District 87 is fortunate to have implemented technology in education over the past five years. The district has incorporated the use of iPads and apps, while also using Schoology.
Sean Byrne, who chairs Glenbard West High School’s science department and will be teaching a biology course, said the fact the district already has been using a lot of technology tools will help students and teachers feel more comfortable in an online learning setting.
“Technology is never going to replace a teacher, but in the hands of teachers it can do a lot, and I believe we’re prepared,” Byrne said.
Small groups of teachers are working together to determine what other tools they may need to teach their discipline, Byrne said. For example, science teachers may need different tools to teach virtually than English teachers, and Byrne said those groups of five or six teachers are able to operate with some autonomy.
The groups, referred to as Professional Learning Communities, consist of a handful of teachers who will be teaching similar courses. They’ve been able to research and learn about tools available to them so they can have access to what will work best for them, whether it is an app or some other program, Byrne said.
“Teachers are some of the most excited learners, and we’re really having to put our learning hats on right now to determine what’s going to be best for our students,” Byrne said. “We want the teachers to feel like experts on the tools they need.”
Byrne said teachers have been doing a lot of learning about the balance between synchronous and asynchronous work and how to create a community feeling for students despite the new environment.
Additionally, creating an equally challenging education without some of the things the district loves to do will be difficult, Larson said. Teachers will have to find new ways, for example, to conduct labs and team building exercises.
The science department is tackling this challenge head on, Byrne said. Two ways his department plans on reinventing hands-on labs will be through the use of livestreaming on Zoom and apps. One app, he said, will allow students to participate in simulations.
“Science class is about actually doing science, and it’s really important to me as a leader that we figure out how the kids can continue to do that at home,” Byrne said. “We’ll be able to translate some of these lessons virtually really well, I believe.”
Another concern from parents is the lack of specificity in the district’s e-learning plan, but Larson said teachers are on a continuum, meaning each is at their own level of understanding, and different disciplines will require different methods.
He said the district is confident teachers have been preparing all summer and that the benefit of already using technology is on their side.
“I think the infrastructure is going to be rigorous and quality,” Larson said.