Transitioning to online learning for your private school

Ashley BellomyBlended Learning, Learning Management

course builder

Last updated: 3/16/2020

With COVID-19 concerns looming, many schools and school districts are looking for ways to move to online learning to support efforts to limit social interactions and the spread of disease, while not creating a disruption to students’ academic pursuits. To that end, we’ve developed this guide to help schools implement online learning.

Getting students connected 

Infrastructure is the first consideration if you’re going to shift to online, and there are three parts to getting everybody connected from home:

  1. Ensuring Internet access
  2. Availability of devices
  3. Implementing online systems

1. Ensuring Internet access

Internet access from home may be a challenge for some families, providing a possible roadblock to students working remotely. There are some ways you can help connect families to resources that exist to help them.

Comcast announced in March 2020 that they will be providing their Internet Essentials service for free for 60 days for students and families during the shutdowns due to Coronavirus.  The service is usually $9.95/month for qualifying families, and low-cost computers are also available.  Information may be found at: https://www.xfinity.com/support/articles/comcast-broadband-opportunity-program

AT&T has a similar program starting for as little as $5/month.  They’ve not yet announced a waiver of that fee.  Program information can be found at: https://www.att.com/shop/internet/access/#!/

Check with your local carriers as well; Cox, Spectrum, Bright House and other providers have similar programs taking place now.

2. Availability of devices

What about families that may not have a PC, laptop, or mobile device at home? There are local, regional, and national organizations that can help get hardware into the hands of low-income families.

Used or refurbished desktop & laptop computers:

  • PCs for People focuses on recycled/refurbished equipment and can provide laptops and PCs for as little as $75.  https://www.pcsforpeople.org/
  • Another great resource for low-cost desktop and laptop computers is Connect All: https://connectall.org/
  • And FreeCycle is a community-based resource where neighbors offer used items of all sorts (including computers) at no cost: https://www.freecycle.org/

Chromebooks are an inexpensive way to get students connected from home, with new devices from brand-name manufacturers starting at as little as $150 and used devices for half of that. A search at BestBuy, Target, or Walmart will turn up a variety of options.

And, even phones and tablets, which most families have today, can fill the need for both a device and Internet access. The challenge with phones is the lack of a keyboard (who wants to type out a term paper with their thumbs, right?)  There are some clever solutions out there for Bluetooth keyboards for as little as $25 or $30 from companies like PropelGear: https://propelgear.com/products/bluetooth-portable-wireless-keyboard-with-pu-leather-case-for-iphone-android-mobile-phone

3. Implementing online systems

It may be tempting to think you can shift to online classes using consumer tools like Facebook groups or WhatsApp, but such tools lack the privacy controls, structure and accountability required when running a school. Furthermore, most consumer services have restrictions on use by minors and are funded by advertising, which may not be appropriate for use with students.

What is required is a secure school management platform that can be used to support online classrooms, and that also supports the overall operations for your school.

In previous posts on our site, we explained some of the major features found in two common types of school administration software: student information systems (SIS), which store student, parent, and staff data such as attendance information, schedules, transcripts, and more; and learning management systems (LMS), which allow for students and parents to access course content, view grades, communicate with peers and teachers, etc.

Twine student desktop with classes and schedule

A one stop shop like Twine combines the online classroom features of an LMS, including online classrooms, parent communication tools, content sharing, and a gradebook to help track and communicate student progress, alongside the student data management capabilities of an SIS. The advantage is that schools have seamless integration of student information, allowing students, families, teachers, and staff to access the information they need, when they need it, all from one centralized location.

With a comprehensive school management platform such as Twine you’ll have just about every school function that you’ll need to operate remotely for as long as you need to. Sites can be fully operational in just a few days. And once you’re back in your physical building, you’ll find that teachers can work more efficiently and parents are better kept in the loop by using Twine to tie all the functions of your school together.

Utilizing online systems

Once infrastructure is accounted for, there’s still work to be done in helping teachers and students function online.

Using asynchronous tools

Your school management platform should provide a variety of tools that support online learning. With Twine, these tools include:

  • A class discussion board for teacher announcements, student questions, online sharing of student work, and discussion of class topics and content.
  • Resource libraries for storing documents, videos, and other things you want to keep on hand and/or share.
  • Online tests and quizzes for assessing student learning and matching mastered concepts to standards and/or learning outcomes.
  • Polls for informally reading the room, so to speak. These are a great substitute for scanning the classroom for confused faces or frustrated students to determine whether everyone “gets it.”
  • Course content builders where you can build out detailed lessons, share documents and videos, and organize materials for online learning.

course builder

Developing and finding course content

An important feature for schools trying to get their online learning off the ground quickly is the ability to use existing content from publishers or the education community.

The Twine content builder, for example, supports import of data provided in either SCORM or IMS Common Cartridge (IMSCC) format. Many textbook publishers, as well as resource sharing sites such as Teachers Pay Teachers, and Share My Lesson offer course content that is easily imported, and which can help you to build out content quickly. Imported content may then be edited as you’d like. This truly means you can have things up and ready for students in a matter of hours, not days or weeks.

Real-time collaboration

The remaining piece for many schools is enabling real-time meetings, ideally with a video chat. For real-time video conferencing, one of the best choices today is Zoom: https://zoom.us/

Their free plan allows group meetings of up to 40 minutes, and they have paid plans that remove the time limit and offer LTI integration to simplify invitations.  We have some customers today that are using a combination of Zoom and Twine to deliver fully online programs.

If the free plan works for you, teachers can sign up individually and get started right away. For schools registered as 501(c)3 nonprofits, another option is to set up accounts through TechSoup, which has licenses for many useful software suites at an extremely discounted rate for nonprofits.

Next Steps

If you’re interested in finding out more about how we can get you up and running to help your students work uninterrupted during school closures, or just want to start your research to be prepared for future emergencies, contact one of our Twine experts, who can walk you through all of our options and help find the best fit for your school.