Cornerstone board hears presentation regarding online learning

If this pandemic and its resulting demands had happened 10 years ago, it would have been a huge challenge for the South East Cornerstone Public School Division’s instructional technology team to answer the call for assistance.

But in 2020, it appeared to be just another difficult problem that could be resolved with the right team of technical expertise and equipment in place.

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The co-ordinator of that four-member SECPSD team, Jeff Walters, provided some insights into the responses that were implemented in 2020 and have since rolled out into 2021.

There was a need to keep educating 8,300 students in the public school system in southeast Saskatchewan amidst an evolving environment that included school lockdowns, a partial return to classrooms, more shutdowns, a full return to classes and a continual demand to maintain a strong system of providing education materials. This all had to be delivered by education professionals and school administration teams.

Walters provided background information to the SECPSD board members who were once again meeting in an online manner on Wednesday for their monthly open business session. The one-hour presentation included video highlights as well as his verbal and written submissions.

Instructional tech, he noted is there to provide vision and leadership in educational technologies.

“We have to make sure everything is working with education technology,” he told the trustees.

The team and its resources are there to support the delivery of the curriculum and technology to the classroom while also collaborating with teachers and students and training new teachers in using grade books and other practices. They also participate in the MySchoolSask provincial student information system.

Supplemental learning in 2020 and into 2021 has absorbed a lot of team time and resources, but with some satisfaction in the process and results.

As Walters pointed out, “we had an opportunity that came about in a strange way to develop projects for students and we didn’t have a road map.”

But stretching the education technical file during this pandemic has led to teams of learners, leaders, families, analysts, collaborators, designers and facilitators, the report noted.

Continued support for a quick expansion of the Cyber Stone online schooling system was also part of the mandate to include kindergarten to Grade 9 learning opportunities besides high school classes.

The team delved deeper into technology integration to redefine traditional tasks on one platform to serve teaching staff, students and families.

The Edsby program has hosted this expansion so that student conferences, online report cards, and other platforms can be implemented and used efficiently.

“If we can’t do face-to-face learning then we have online school teams, staff services and we have set up our own road map,” Walters said. This is made possible by providing a digital hub and training for over 500 teachers who come bearing a lot of questions and in need of technical supports on top of the student and family needs.

With collaboration with the division’s technical leader Brian Belinsky, there have been loan outs of 984 lap top computers to students who need them for complete online capabilities.

“We experienced some hiccups, but nothing daunting,” Walters said.

Creating professional learning communities, instructional technology teams, assistance to administration teams, library technicians and teacher collaboration efforts … all became part of the job description.

“Getting information out to the people who need it,” Walters added.

The Edsby platform provides space for recording and reporting on student achievement. Trustee Jim Vermeersch asked Walters “what has been your biggest roadblock?”

Walters replied that it was deciding what platforms to use for various services and then ramping them up to support training for everybody.”

“If it happened 10 years ago, it would have been really challenging. But now, we’re able to meet the challenges when given a problem and we can say, ‘here, this is how we can solve it.’”

Assisting the administrators in posting messages to connect with families has been another side of the team’s work along with the library tech support and teacher refresher lessons and reminders.

New additions to the system so far this year have included accounts and attendance periods, Gradebook and teacher, parent, student achievement messaging.

Edsby, it turns out, has allowed teachers to coach and support students and families who can log in any time and “it has been easier on the teacher end of things,” Walters added.

Successful examples of how the online system has allowed students to continue to work together as well as individually from remote locations were used in the video presentations that accompanied Walters’ remarks.

“It’s been a busy, challenging year but we’re doing things we just used to talk about,” said Walters.

“We keep in mind that all of what you’ve shared, your support work was happening at the same time.  Your teams work has been instrumental to the success of on-line learning,” said Lynn Little, the division’s director of education.

Walters was thanked by chairwoman Audrey Trombley. She was directing the online proceedings from the division’s central office conference room in Weyburn.

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