When Weber School District made the decision to move to “one-to-one technology” — providing a computing device for every student in the district — a pandemic wasn’t what it had in mind.
But effort over the past few years to provide computing devices to every student in the district — and train teachers on incorporating the devices into their teaching — left the district well prepared to quickly roll out “modified home learning” after Gov. Gary Herbert announced Friday that schools would halt in-person instruction for the next two weeks. The decision was made to limit the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
“Our teachers already were doing ... some form of a blended digital teaching and learning before this current situation came into play,” said Lynn Raymond, the district’s technology director.
All junior high and high schools in the district, except for Roy Junior High, have moved to one-to-one technology, Raymond said, and every secondary student has a Chromebook that they can take home with them.
Roy Junior hasn’t made the move because the school is about to move into a new building, he said.
About half of the district’s elementary schools have one-to-one technology, Raymond said, but students did not take their devices home with them before the soft school closure, according to an email from Lane Findlay, spokesperson for the district.
“We want all students to have access to a device at home, so if a student needs a Chromebook, we can check one out to them at their school,” Findlay said in an email. “Parents will just need to make arrangements.”
The other half of elementary schools are providing work to students through other means, Raymond said, and approaches can vary from school to school, Findlay said.
“What we’re currently doing is identifying those students who don’t have access to any digital availability at home,” Raymond said. The district’s focus right now is finding a way to increase technology access in these homes, he said, since most of the district’s work with teachers and students at one-to-one schools is progressing smoothly.
During the transition, the district isn’t aiming to have students working on computers at specific times, said Nick Harris, the district’s supervisor of technology and media. Assignments will be designed to be completed in a flexible timeframe.
“We’re assuming that our children are going ... to be sharing a computer,” Harris said. “... The expectation is not that the kid sits there for eight hours in front of their computer at home.”
Raymond and Harris say it’s taken a significant, interdepartmental effort to accomplish the district’s transition to one-to-one technology, and the undertaking has had steady support from Jeff Stephens, district superintendent.
“We’ve been in training mode with our teachers for the past two years as they go one-to-one,” Harris said. “We train the teachers for six months before students even get the laptops ... so a large part of teachers have already been training for months.”
At the junior high and high school level, students in the district are primarily using Canvas, an online learning platform that’s frequently used at the college level.
Harris and Raymond said that many schools would not be on Canvas due to the cost, were it not for the Utah State Board of Education negotiating a deal with Instructure for all schools to have access the program.
The state has made Canvas available to all grades, K-12, but grades at the elementary level in Weber district are largely using Google Classroom, part of students’ G Suite accounts, which are provided for free to K-12 districts by Google for Education.
“I really applaud the state, the legislature and our district’s help and the foresight because, man, even three years ago, this would have been really tough,” Harris said, referring to House Bill 277, which created the digital teaching and learning grant in 2016.