Sometimes life throws you curve balls. It is the learning curve that families are now trying to take a swing at. The rapid and unprecedented jump to distance learning in March has left a new appreciation for educators and array of “homeschooling” jokes on social media. There is no doubt this has been an adjustment for the schools, parents and students.
A common frustration for families adjusting to a “new normal” at home is coping with technology. While we are fortunate to live in a world where access to many things is only a click away, there are bound to be times of malfunction.
The School District of Amery has had several options available to students. There are online options for those with internet access, provided on a school issued computer or there has been the option of work packet pick-up once a week at the campus.
For many distance learners, the school-issued device might be their only connection to distance learning, and even in today’s world, it might not always be dependable.
Shawn Doerfler, District Administrator for the School District of Amery, said, “The first issue with technology was the sudden departure from our school routine that we as a District found ourselves in. We were in school on Friday, March 13th and then out at the end of the day Tuesday, March 17th. The turnaround presented some serious issues, not the least of which was getting the devices in kids’ hands before they left. At the high school where they take their computers home every day it was easy, but the middle schoolers and intermediate kids check their computers out. Now, we were in the position to get devices in the hands of nearly a thousand students and send them home with devices they in most cases do not usually take home. We had no idea how long we would be away or if the computers were ready to be with kids at home.”
Those who are used to life with internet access may not realize just how many U.S. residents are not there yet. In 2019, the FCC estimated that 21.3 million people lacked access to broadband, with only about two-thirds of rural homes having a connection.
“The biggest problems that we have encountered are issues of connectivity/WIFI in homes. Some kids have a nice set up and others have no internet at all. In addition, where there are multiple kids in one home there could be three or four devices competing for WIFI. I am sure that has created problems in some homes,” said Doerfler.
Many parents do not consider themselves even slightly computer savvy. If a student runs into equipment or software problems, the student may be stuck they can touch base with the school’s IT department.
Doerfler said, “The other issue we have encountered is the everyday IT issues that occur. Kids have devices, but they may stop working for whatever reason. We have IT help but we cannot troubleshoot the computer in person only remotely. That has made things hard for our kids and for our IT department.”
Current High School Junior, Paighton Tyman, said, “Online work has been more difficult by the ongoing computer issues I have had, the Wi-Fi on my computer has not worked right all year, during the safer-at-home orders my computer would not connect at all to the WI-Fi when my siblings computers would. I asked tech support what to do and they tried to help via email, however that didn’t work so we needed to exchange my computer for another one.”
Many families who have had technology issues say that teachers have been very understanding and the IT department is doing their best to help.
Doerfler said, “By and large, we have had very few issues with a virtual education platform suddenly thrust upon the District and our students. Our kids and staff have done the best they can throughout this process.”