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Class about to start for Medford, Ashland parents

For parents and teachers alike, school is now in session.

Medford School District will hold a Zoom webinar Thursday afternoon to give parents a crash course on how its learning management system, Canvas, will work. Set to start at 2 p.m. and last for an hour-and-a-half, the webinar will give local parents an overview of the platform students will be using once school begins Tuesday.

A link is available on the district’s Facebook page, and for parents who can’t watch it live the recording will be available to watch soon after it’s completed.

The Ashland School District, which will also use Canvas, conducted similar online training webinars for parents of elementary- and middle-schoolers Tuesday and will have another for parents of high-schoolers Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Central Point School District, which has adopted another platform, called Acellus, will not be conducting a district-wide training for parents, however some “school-level training” may be available later, according to Superintendent Samantha Steele.

Medford’s Canvas training isn’t required, but Tish Richmond, the district’s tech integration specialist and learning management coordinator, said parents who check it out will learn a lot about what Medford’s comprehensive distance learning will look like.

“This is where learning is going to happen during comprehensive distance learning, so it’s important for parents to understand how the platform works to be able to navigate the platform with their students, to be able to understand the templates that have been embedded in the courses, and to understand how to navigate within them,” Richmond said. “There are some really awesome features as far as messaging with teachers and being able to access the calendar to see due dates for assignments and grades.”

Richmond said parents will be able to download an app on their smartphone to keep tabs on their child’s progress.

“That training is to help ... families see all of the possibilities with Canvas and how to be a part of their students’ learning adventures this year,” she said.

When schools shut down last spring, districts were forced to improvise ways to keep classes going. The result was a hodgepodge of virtual solutions that differed from school to school and even from classroom to classroom. Navigating that complicated road map of virtual classes proved frustrating for students and parents alike, but Richmond believes the simplicity of Canvas will provide a much better learning experience.

“And really,” she said, “the intent of this platform is to create an efficient, streamlined workflow to create very clear and consistent communication with students. This platform is going to be the virtual classroom. This is where the learning is going to happen, this is where the feedback is going to happen.”

In Ashland, a Schooling Through COVID committee consisting of teachers and administrators put their heads together to figure out how the district should proceed should comprehensive distance learning continue at the start of the 2020-21 school year. The consensus was that the system the district defaulted to in the spring wasn’t good enough.

They “needed a better mouse trap,” said Human Resources Director Laurie Rooper, and before long, in early July, Canvas was adopted.

“And immediately,” Rooper said, “a couple of administrators and this group of teachers all started working on learning Canvas. At this point, a little more than a month these people have been working and playing with Canvas. And some of them had experience working with Canvas in the past.”

Rooper said the first two days of school in Ashland will be a “soft start,” as students learn the new system. That process may take a little longer for younger students, she said.

As for how Canvas works, looks, and so on, Rooper said it’s very user-friendly.

“It’s the place that you go to get to everything else,” she said. “I might even think of it like Facebook. It hopefully is even easier than Facebook in some ways. But that sort of sense of this is the place that you go to get everything.”

Richmond seconded that. When asked how long it may take parents and students who are not tech-savvy to feel comfortable with Canvas, she said ease of use is one of the platform’s strengths. Medford-specific customizations are built in, too, she added, thanks in part to some design work by Lisa North, a second-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary.

“We are creating classroom environments that are as intuitive as possible for students,” Richmond said. “So we have special templates. (North) created an incredible template that’s going to be placed in each student’s classroom that’s designed so that it is intuitive and easy for students to be able to navigate and find where they need to go to be able to find what is due on a certain date and what activities are happening on a certain date. It’s a learning curve for everyone. We’re all learning how to navigate this new system, but I definitely think that parents are going to be able to do it.”

Smith agreed.

“And very quickly,” she added, “their students will be able to help them.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

Back to school, 123rf.com