This week, all Forsyth County Schools were closed down for two days while snow and ice blanketed most of the county.
But those weren’t two days free of school work; instead, thousands of students participated in Online Learning days, using computers, tablets or smart phones to complete activities and learn safely from home.
According to Jennifer Caracciolo, spokeswoman for Forsyth County Schools, the Online Learning days have been a reality for the school district for years and have been tweaked and streamlined by feedback from parents and teachers.
During an Online Learning day, where students have to stay home from school, they work on assignments online from a smart phone, or tablet or laptop computer via an application called itsLearning.
Students have three days to complete the assignments, can receive instant feedback and have virtual office hours with their teachers.
One Forsyth County mother, Kristen Dudley, said that she had reservations about the system at first, but that over time she and her son Tate have grown to enjoy using itsLearning.
“We were very curious to see how it would work. But Kids today are very computer savvy,” she said.
Dudley said at Chestatee Elementary School, where her son attends first grade, the teachers use “fake snow days” to train students in navigating the system and using their passwords so they can use the program on real snow days
“He loves school in general … When I participate with him sometimes, we are both learning something new. He has no problems with it because it’s simple to finish the tasks quickly, so he can proceed with his snow day fun,” said Dudley.
“There are a lot of misconceptions, but what people need to understand that [the itsLearning platform] is just a tool. People always say, ‘kids need to be kids and have time to go outside and play in the snow.’ Well this makes their work continent so they can go do that,” she said.
Caracciolo said that Forsyth County residents who don’t have a child in the district might not realize that the itsLearning platform is used within every Forsyth County Classroom on a daily basis.
“Kids come into kindergarten already knowing how to use a smart phone … this is the world that they were born into,” she said.
The itsLearning online platform allows teachers to create and post the class content and monitor student progress; it allows students to participate in online discussions, submit work and receive feedback; and allows parents to keep up to date with classroom events, grades and attendance.
Caracciolo said that the online platform has many advantages, but its flexibility is what draws most people to it.
“The different ways that they can use the technology in the classroom are virtually unlimited. There are videos and games and texts that have something for all students,” she said. “Our job is to prepare them for a post-secondary education or entering the workforce, and technology is going to be part of that.”
Caracciolo said that the itsLearning platform uses technology to reinforce the 4C’s — creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking — the school system wants to instill in students.
“By incorporating those into the classroom, we prepare students for the future,” she said.