There has been a structured “Distance Learning” program in the Voorhees Township School District since 1998, with the focus of our participation placed primarily on the development and implementation of learning activities involving two-way videoconferencing, including electronic field trips, classroom to classroom projects and off-site courses. “Distance Learning” actually includes many of the other technology initiatives that currently exist in various stages of implementation within the school district, providing our students, staff and community members with access to people and content not otherwise available via e-mail, social networking tools or virtual multiuser environments. The concept and related applications extend beyond the teaching-learning process to staff development delivery and the facilitation of staff productivity in the form of enhanced opportunities for communication and collaboration. These resources have emerged as the focus point when describing the development of 21st century skills for communications, media and technology literacy.
Enhancements to the communications infrastructure over the past several years have allowed the district to provide new online resources and services to the classroom, while improving on those already in place. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- High speed Internet access with content acceleration and filtering features, allowing for the interactive use of multimedia intensive content, including virtual and gaming environments, delivered via the web
- Classroom tools for the creation, manipulation and sharing of content, such as networked computers, educational courseware and applications, large screen viewing devices, interactive whiteboards, screen control software, screen casting, digital still and video cameras, scanners, mobile wireless notebook computers, etc.
- Web hosting services, providing a means for sharing district and school-based information with the community, and employing a decentralized approach as we continue to promote teacher participation in the creation and publishing of content. Formats include Blogs, Podcasts & Wikis in addition to traditional static pages, forms and surveys, and photo galleries or media libraries.
- Office 365 Education - a collection of services that allows us to collaborate and share schoolwork - services include Office Online (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote), 1TB of OneDrive storage, Teams collaboration, and SharePoint sites. Teachers and students may install the full Office applications on up to 5 PCs or Macs, whether district-owned or personally owned.
- Google G Suite – a collection of apps and services that allows us to collaborate and share schoolwork – services include G Suite Educational Apps (Docs, Sheets, Slides, Meet/Hangouts, etc.), Drive for storage, Classroom for assignment workflow, Groups for collaboration, etc.
- Point-to-point or multipoint videoconferencing from any location in every school, with participants existing either within the district, outside, or both, allowing for content sharing and/or collaboration. Informal means, such as Skype (Teams), Google Meet, or Facetime, makes videoconferencing highly accessible, while products like Cisco telepresence endpoints, WebEx and Spark allow for tighter coordination of higher quality collaboration activities.
- Scheduled multicasts, i.e., “one to many” of broadcast television or satellite-based programming, recorded programming or live presentations.
- On-Demand access to media clips and titles, beginning with the development of a centralized video library, to be shared via a computer, large screen viewing device, etc. Indexed metadata provides fast access to media segments, which can be included in custom playlists by the user. Subscription-based educational media content is available, as well as content developed by both teachers and students, and all media content is available from both school and from home. Media content, including eBooks, are also searchable using our online library catalog, and MARC record entries there are integrated tightly with one of the district’s two video-on-demand systems.
- Document management system containing searchable lessons, presentations and a variety of other internal district documents containing information useful to the staff.
Unified groupware applications providing an integrated e-mail messaging system with an internal centralized directory and Internet capabilities, resource scheduling, workflow management and document sharing capabilities.
Although these new systems provide valuable opportunities, for each, there are underlying requirements that must be met in order to maximize the district’s return on its investment. Part of the challenge lies in providing for the administration and maintenance of these added systems without increasing staff, but by reevaluating the roles of existing staff. Another piece lies in providing effective professional development, beginning with exposure to these resources and including more in-depth training opportunities, and the availability of both curriculum support and technical support vehicles that make these resources easy to use. The last component deals with the importance of administrative leadership regarding the establishment of policy, guidelines and in the setting of expectations for staff related to the use of electronic content and communications resources, so we can do so safely, legally and in a way that ensures equity for all of our students.
During the 2019-20 COVID-19 pandemic school closure, there became a heightened need to roll many of our current technology initiatives up and place them under the umbrella of "Distance Learning," coordinating the efforts of those involved in each of the separate components so that these structures may function and evolve more efficiently.