No one could have predicted how events of early 2020 would forever change the landscape of K-12 education. District leaders who already had a lot on their plates suddenly had the added responsibility of rolling out eLearning plans for the remainder of the school year. For one district, early planning and prompt implementation were crucial to ensure learning continued without interruption during the nationwide stay-at-home order caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Consolidated High School District 230 (D230), located in Orland Park, Illinois, about 45 minutes southeast of Chicago, prides itself as being innovative and future-ready. The district already had an eLearning environment in place prior to the pandemic. Once virtual learning became the only option, D230 quickly learned how important it was to have an SIS platform that integrated seamlessly with its Learning Management System (LMS).
John Connolly, chief technology officer at D230, credits Skyward with their eLearning program success. Used by D230 for over 10 years, Skyward is the main software the district uses to manage their student and financial data.
Pre-Planning Proved Pivotal
For D230, and 14 other Illinois school districts, the beginning of 2020 marked the transition to an Illinois state-approved eLearning plan. Little did they know that this plan would be put to the test so soon.
“While the plan was expected to be used for inclement weather days, we did factor in that it could be used for emergency situations as well,” said Connolly. “We obviously were not planning on the situation that transpired with COVID-19, but the plan provided the foundation for our teachers and students to get off the ground that first week.”
"D230 is proof of how pre-planning, designing with the end-user in mind, and using a system that staff are already comfortable with can prove successful, even when plans get accelerated or altered due to outside forces.
“Skyward support was amazing - in high pressure times like we had, it was great to triumph"
The eLearning plan was created to be a simple way to allow foundational usage across the board for all teachers and students, while still allowing for expansion. The key system in leveraging this plan was Skyward, with the Skyward Message Center being the main portal where teachers post daily assignments and attendance, and where the main communication system between teachers and students and their parents take place.
“Using Skyward for this system was crucial because while the district uses Canvas and Google Classroom, not all teachers have transitioned completely to using an LMS,” said Connolly.
It was also important to D230 that their new eLearning plan would be easily teachable. The first step involved having the teachers who would be using the plan be directly involved in its design.
After the plan was designed, the next step was to train staff. To do this, D230 used the same teachers to help coach their peers on learning the technology.
Finally, the district had onsite training days for all staff and students where they went through the process of taking attendance and giving remote assignments.
Integrating an LMS with SIS
With D230’s three high schools, hundreds of staff and thousands of students, accommodating different learning and teaching styles was a known necessity of the eLearning plan.
To ensure that the staff’s needs were being met and buy-in remained high, D230 decided to integrate their new eLearning plan through Skyward with a well-known LMS already in place at the district, called Canvas.
“The integration with Canvas has made it much easier to manage changes with courses, teachers, student rosters, team teaching, etc.,” stated Connolly. “The lift for some staff members that are not as tech savvy was an easy one since they use Skyward each day. At the same time, teachers using Canvas or Google Classroom could post for students to continue along in their course in the LMS.”
Another process implemented by the district was Grade Passback, where the LMS takes grades entered into Canvas and automatically transfers them to the Skyward Gradebook. This streamlined process proves to be a teacher favorite at D230.
“The Skyward toolset makes it easy to integrate with third-party systems in general, and the LMS was no different,” said Connolly.
Thanks to Skyward’s LMS integration abilities, all teachers in the district were able to become more comfortable with the new eLearning system during a time of uncertainty.
"The more we can integrate Skyward with third-party systems, the better the experience is for our staff and parents "
Putting the Plan into Action
With a lot of changes taking place at D230 amid the pandemic, keeping their new virtual learning plan running smoothly was the district’s top priority.
One essential part of this process was the team of teachers who helped design the plan. This Technology Innovation Team provided constant support during the school shutdowns, even providing weekly training topics, which can be found here.
“They were instrumental in putting together the plan, and also for taking the lead on the training and support as the plan went live and progressed,” said Connolly.
Thanks to this team, staff at D230 were able to continue virtual teaching and learning success.
“It was amazing to see D230 staff, students, administrators, and parents step up to the plate during the Spring semester,” said Connolly. “The amount of change, in uncomfortable circumstances for many, was accepted and managed from the onset. All staff members continued to go above and beyond in support of our students and district goals. The number of teachers that moved digital and started to leverage new systems and technology was inspiring.”
One reason for the high staff buy-in was the communication provided by the district throughout the process. While the district had extensive communication on the eLearning plan prior to COVID-19, they quickly had to push out surveys, meet with various board and parent groups, and facilitate staff meetings to review and improve the plan as the semester progressed.
“That ongoing communication did not stop as we continued into extended remote learning,” said Connolly. “Our administrators and teachers did a great job communicating on a weekly basis to all students and parents. Our principals in particular were amazing with the graduating class of 2020 and all school updates during the remote learning.”
eLearning: It Isn't Over Yet
In the future, D230 is looking forward to improving their eLearning plan even further. Actions may include tweaking the way attendance is taken by exploring positive attendance in Skyward and reviewing the gradebook to support how the district’s teachers can leverage this goal based on state guidelines, and more.
“The more we can integrate Skyward with third-party systems, the better the experience is for our staff and parents,” said Connolly.
For other districts considering using an LMS with their Skyward system, Connolly says, “Integrating your LMS with Skyward will make your life that much easier. Rosters, gradebook, attendance, and communication are all processes that if and when they are automated will make the end user experience great. This will also eliminate manual work that would need to be completed for your tech team.”
"Integrating your LMS with Skyward will make your life that much easier. Rosters, gradebook, attendance, and communication are all processes that if and when they are automated will make the end user experience great. This will also eliminate manual work that would need to be completed for your tech team."
As for other districts that are struggling with getting eLearning initiatives in place, Connolly suggests the following three things:
a. Keep it Simple - pick and choose systems that everyone can use. Staff, students, and parents are under heavy stress - allow for simplicity and those that want more can expand to use other areas of the systems. This applies for the system usage, but is also important for grading, attendance, and key learning goals.
b. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) - have a plan in place for SEL. Students and staff are under stressful conditions and they really need this support.
c. Technology & System Support - have a plan for device and technology deployment, email and phone support, training, video conferencing best practices, system usage, etc. This includes having training days for staff and students leading up to remote learning if this is possible.
D230 is proof of how pre-planning, designing with the end-user in mind, and using a system that staff are already comfortable with can prove successful, even when plans get accelerated or altered due to outside forces.
“Skyward support was amazing - in high pressure times like we had, it was great to triumph,” said Connolly.