SC Dept. of Education considers eLearning program expansion in response to Coronavirus

VIDEO: SC Dept. of Education considers eLearning program expansion in response to Coronavirus

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Officials with the South Carolina Department of Education are considering how an eLearning program could be implemented if students are forced to miss class time because of the Coronavirus.

Berkeley County is the only Lowcountry school district piloting the eLearning program this school year, and district officials say it has shown potential for covering any potential extended closures.

“We are not expecting any prolonged closures here, but if we were, that is one of the tools, along with things like sending home packets of information because we know that some instruction is going to be better than no instruction,” said BCSD spokesperson Katie Tanner. “If we were to be faced with a challenge like that, we are very thankful that we do have eLearning, and that we already have experience with that if we want to use that as a tool to continue instruction.”

Students in Berkeley County have only experienced one eLearning day so far. The program is designed to allow students to make up for missed class time because of inclement weather. State education officials said the program could also be used to respond to an illness outbreak. However, it’s not a simple process and would only be used in “dire circumstances where some instruction during prolonged closure is better than none.

Only 15 districts across the state are currently participating in eLearning pilot, but state education officials said there is the possibility that it could be expanded to districts which demonstrate readiness and capacity if they experience closure related to COVID-19.

“There is also the possibility that an impacted district could use other means such as paper packets to supplement the loss of instruction,” said SCDE Chief Communications Officer Ryan Brown. “In regards to closure decisions, those will be made by DHEC and the district after investigating on a case by case basis. Their goal is and will be to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among students, staff, and the community, as a whole. A single case does not necessarily mean a school will be closed. It all depends on the investigation and what is in the best interest of preventing the spread while having the least negative impact to regular operation.”

Implementing eLearning statewide is not as easy as sending students home with a laptop. State education officials said there are concerns about internet access in rural areas. However, Berkeley County offers its students unique access to digital devices that not all school districts can afford. A one-to-one digital learning initiative provides Chromebook devices to students in grades 3-12. Meanwhile, a partnership between the school district and Home Telecom provides free internet connectivity to school-age children through a grant from Google.

“Those types of things have really provided us with resources that we can rely on that other districts may not have,” Tanner said. “As far as our ability to provide instruction and use technology to do that, we are pretty sound here in Berkeley County from the work of our technology department in collaboration with Google and in collaboration with some of our providers like Home Telecom.”

The district’s next eLearning day is set for March 13th.

“That will be our second experience with eLearning, and it is our hope that we will continue to use it as a makeup day tool,” Tanner said.

eLearning is different from the virtual learning opportunities the district also provides.

“It’s not going to be a real time instruction the way you would see in a virtual learning setting,” Tanner said. “Each school will set different office hours. Our eLearning day is also a teacher workday where our teachers are going to be working hard in their classrooms. So, we want to make sure everybody knows when their office hours are when they are available to answer questions pertaining to eLearning assignments.”

Berkeley County parents can find those office hours on your child’s school website ahead of the eLearning day.

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