Today, having nothing to do with broadband, I had an opportunity to talk with Tracy Quarnstrom at Wolf Creek Online High School; they have been offering online and hybrid options for years. I had so many questions especially in light of the recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on the State’s emerging plan for school in the fall…
Districts and charter schools have been directed by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) to create contingency plans around three scenarios: in-person instruction, distance learning or a hybrid of the two. This week, MDE and the state Department of Health plan to release guidelines to help with the shaping of those plans.
MDE is currently surveying families about their views on fall plans; they received 100,000 responses in the first day! Survey is open until June 30.
Back to Wolf Creek. I wanted to hear about how they have made online school work because while my high schooler used to love class, she suffered this last semester. Judging by the comments to the Star Tribune article, our tough semester was not abnormal.
The schools were put into a horrible position, given less than 2 weeks to pivot to online/distance education in the midst of a pandemic. The pandemic meant parents were home, many teachers were now home with their kids, siblings were left to help teach, play with and at the end of the day not injure the only other children they were allowed to play with over three months. There were broadband issues, device issues and certainly mental health issues over fear of illness and loneliness of quarantine as we all learned to live with the new normal. And then we capped off the school year with the killing of George Floyd and resulting civil unrest, which impacted different areas and populations differently.
Tracy emphasized immediately that the problem wasn’t necessarily the online component, but the crazy world around us and the incredibly short time teachers and schools had to prepare. Normally getting online certification is a two year process. Wolf Creek is a student- focused school with online curriculum and optional campus two days a week. So they did need to make changes when COVID-19 hit – but the curriculum and how to teach were not issues.
They use Moodle, a Learning Management System. Students log in and can take classes using third party curricula and/or directly with teachers accessing videos, essay and discussion groups. Students can access teachers via Google Hangouts. They used to have some concurrent classes and on site speakers; that has changed. Another change. they increased the hours for the Guidance Counselor from 20 to 40 and are working with outside partners to help with Mental Health support.
And now that the campus is closed, they keep a Google Hangout open and staffed from 9am to 2pm. Students can pop in for help or just to say hello. They ran a deal where each time you popped in, you qualified for a chance to win a prize.
It’s an entirely different approach to education, again very students focused. When a student starts, the create an individual graduation plan. Each students id different. Some might simply take a class or two not offered at their base school. Others are finishing up a few credits. Some work better online and at their own pace.
I was reminded of friends who have declared after the last three months that they would never choose to work from home; I remind them that working from home is great. It’s the rest of the world that’s not so hot right now. Online/distance education seems like it could be the same. We need to borrow more from the folks who have been doing this successfully for years to create a culture where students can learn, thrive and stay healthy – online and off.