As educators, we work constantly to prepare for everything, and in some cases, prepare against something. That preparation and experience were key for us during a tough time for the communities we serve.
We work for Hall County Schools, based in Gainesville, Georgia. We have 35 public schools with roughly 30,000 students, teachers, and other staff. Since the summer of 2014, Hall County Schools has used Canvas by Instructure as its learning management system (LMS). Canvas has given us an opportunity to expand the horizons of the “what” and “how” we teach and learn. We also had Canvas in mind, when we planned for potential school interruptions.
On Monday, September 11th, heavy rain and high winds—remnants of Hurricane Irma—hit Hall County. The wind knocked down trees, and those trees knocked down power lines, damaged homes, fell on cars, and blocked more than one hundred roads. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured in the storm but more than half of the people in the county lost power for a couple of days.
Our district superintendent canceled school Monday and Tuesday, but we planned on having “school from home” the rest of the week with many students having an option to access their materials through Canvas. We like to call it a “Digital Learning Day”, and this is the third year that severe weather has prompted our students to do their work outside a brick and mortar building.
We were pleased with the results. Our district has just over 2,800 active Canvas courses in use. Based on our Canvas page views and time on the site, the majority of students stayed engaged and kept up with their work. Even though our district does not mandate Canvas, teachers and students who use Canvas were not jarred by the storm. The rate at which students were using Canvas increased substantially the week of the storm, and even more than doubled during the digital learning day on the 13th:
(Note: A “session” is counted when a user signs in and logs off in Canvas for any length of time.)
Here are three lessons that the storm response reinforced to us:
1. The importance of blended learning (combining digital media with traditional classroom methods). Our district has heavily emphasized this, and teachers have set goals for creating blended learning content by working with e-Learning specialists.
2. An LMS that makes learning available. Having our curriculum on Canvas—not just in our school buildings or during emergencies, but accessible from devices anytime and anywhere—is key.
3. Adults are learning too. We discovered that school’s not just about “seat time”. Students don’t necessarily need eight hours of class to have a quality educational experience.
We hope to build from this. Hall County Schools will continue to train teachers to increase the use of blended learning and Canvas so that we can stay ready and able to help students, parents, and our district for the next challenge.
Danica Pruitt, e-Learning Specialist
Penny Christensen, e-Learning Specialist
Gregory Odell, e-Learning Specialist
Eddie Millwood, Digital Convergence Specialist
Hall County Schools (Georgia)
*See the reason one parent calls Hall County’s approach “forward-looking” in this story by news station WSB-TV.