Long-running Google partnership prepared District 207 for remote learning
Long before most ever imagined a pandemic closing every school in the state, Maine Township High School District 207 was getting a jump start on e-learning capabilities that have become essential in recent weeks.
The Park Ridge-based district in 2007 became Google's first education partner in the nation, and has spent the past 13 years making its teachers proficient in the use of online learning.
"They've had the training wheels on for something like this for a long time," Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Innovation Shawn Messmer said.
The main motivation -- then and now -- is to prepare students for both a college and working world increasingly dependent on the use of such technology.
"What our teachers have done is taken the material and made it available electronically," Messmer added.
The "digital divide" is still a reality in 2020 and not every family in District 207 has access to the internet at home. When the district's 6,400 students were first provided with their Chromebook devices, more than 200 also had to be issued mobile hot spots. Even now, roughly 100 students still require them.
For some students, the electronic devices issued them by the district were the first their families had ever had in their homes.
While District 207 isn't alone in having made e-learning and access to devices a priority in recent years, Messmer and Superintendent Ken Wallace believe what really sets it apart is the amount they've invested in teacher training.
That's the responsibility of Adult Learning Coordinator Jill Geocaris, who said the pandemic has given even the district's well-prepared staff a number of new e-learning skills.
"I think every teacher's repertoire has grown in the last month," Geocaris said.
Though many younger teachers come to the district already tech-savvy, not all come with the knowledge of every app that can be of use to them in their instructional plans. That's where constant training and collaboration come into play.
But while the current crisis has revealed some silver linings and provided proof of e-learning's broad applicability, it hasn't provided the perfect learning environment, Geocaris said.
"Person-to-person contact is still a missing component," she said.
While students have face-to-face interaction with their teachers and classmates via the Zoom and Google Meet apps, instructors can't "read" their pupils or tell whether they're having a problem quite as well as when seeing them in the classroom, Geocaris added.
But as a tool, e-learning is proving its relevance to the future of education and a significant amount of innovation is expected this summer to prepare for a school year that could begin the same way this one is ending, she said.