School district will help iron out teachers’ tech issues

Ocala Star-Banner | By Joe Callahan | September 30, 2020

Some of Marion County’s online teachers are becoming increasing frustrated about several virtual learning platforms, stating that they spend half their time during online classes troubleshooting technology instead of educating students.

Two Belleview Middle School teachers addressed the Marion County School Board last week to share their concerns that too much time is spent helping students and parents log into class.

Realizing there are still problems a month into school, which began Aug. 24, Superintendent of Schools Diane Gullett announced that she will launch a task force to examine the issues after she distributes an anonymous paper survey.

Officials agree that fine-tuning online instruction is vital if COVID-19 forces all students into virtual instruction. Currently, about two-thirds of Marion’s 41,000 students are attending in-person class.

“I hear it is getting better,” Gullett said this week. “I was at schools last Friday. However, I am not yet satisfied that we have fully addressed all of the concerns and frustrations from some of the teachers.”

One divide has been the reliability of the platforms: Microsoft Teams, Google Classrooms and Zoom. Sometimes technology glitches force teachers to switch formats and students have to quickly log off one and onto another.

School board Chairman Eric Cummings said he is hearing that teachers must use whichever one is working well on any given day.

“I have observed for three or four days and it is frustrating for them to switch from one (platform) to another,” he noted.

Gullett said in an interview this week that “we have to be fluid and flexible and look at Microsoft Teams because it was new for so many.”

“We need to look at what’s working and some of the challenges that we are facing with the technology platforms,” Gullett noted, adding there has been too much angst among some teachers and the district must explore the situation further.

“Through this work (task force) comes solutions we hope will be the best options to help them,” Gullett said.

One teacher, Belleview Middle civics teacher Terry Kinder, pitched last week for the district to assign an IT person to every school to address student log-on issues while the teachers continue teaching.

“The survey will be helpful so that teachers can answer them and that will give us some of the common concerns,” Gullett noted this week. “That survey and the task force will help develop options.”

Kinder, who wrote an open letter to the school board about the mounting technology issues, said last week that she is mentally exhausted because of playing the role of IT for her classes at her school. Kinder said she speaking for many teachers.

Kinder said she spends half of her class period helping students with technology with “kindness and empathy.”

“I believe the technology issues have been the main reason why I currently have 50% of my online students with an F, and 5% with a D,” she noted. “That is about 80 students who are not succeeding in my state-mandated civics class. On average, during a given year, I may have four students who fail my class.”

Kinder said she spends 15 minutes with roll call each online class, as well as 40 minutes helping students get logged into her class, which is nearly two hours long.

“That is half my instruction time,” she noted.

Gullett thanked Kinder at last week’s meeting for sharing her concerns and for her service.

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