Two Weeks in the Books: Students, Teachers Continue to Master Digital Learning

Online learning continues around the Cobb County School District, and students and teachers are beginning to settle into virtual learning. With, the governor’s announcement that schools will remain closed through at least April 24, digital learning is here to stay for a while longer.

Teachers across the District are embracing online video platforms that allow them to see and hear their students, much as they would in a regular classroom. Microsoft Teams is one such tool.

“Using Teams has been a good way for me to keep things organized because all the files are in one place,” said Baker Elementary Media Specialist Emily Brown. “I also enjoy the fact that we get to have virtual staff meetings and see each other.”

The organizational aspect was an advantage that many teachers mentioned. While many platforms exist with video-conferencing capabilities, Teams seamlessly integrates with the other programs that teachers regularly use, like Word and PowerPoint.

“Office 365, and specifically ClassNotebook/OneNote has been lovely,” said third-grade teacher Jamie Goss. “While I used it a little bit before, I think this digital teaching/learning adventure will inspire me to continue using it regularly when face-to-face classes resume.”

Teaching from home has also presented unique challenges for some.

“My husband is also a teacher, and we both need a workspace,” Ms. Goss explained. “Organizational and space options have been challenging.”

The teaching duo found that utilizing a tabletop ironing board as a computer desk works as a makeshift solution.

Knowing that tablespace is the first to get used, Ms. Goss has taken to using the spaces above and below the table.

“I’ve layered bins and trays beneath the table where my computer generally sits to use more vertical space instead of moving horizontally across flat areas.”

Although “digital learning” is usually interpreted as how students are accessing and being taught their lessons, there has also been a learning curve for the teachers. While thousands in the District were certified as Microsoft Innovative Educators, some of the District’s teachers, like their students, had to adjust to the sudden transition to online technologies.

“It was a learning experience for all of us—teachers, students, and parents,” said Dickerson Middle School teacher Dr. Sunny Williams. “But with each day, I become more and more comfortable with the process and am finding new ways to stay connected to my students and to my colleagues.”

Angela Robinson, ELA teacher at Barber Middle School agreed.

“The Digital Learning Days have allowed me time to satisfy the lifelong learner in me,” she said. “I have been able to expand my resources as a teacher in order to be a better teacher/facilitator for my students.”

Various technologies available to teachers and students have also yielded some surprising results. A video circulated of over 500 band members from every high school in the District playing “Shimmering Joy.” The video showed that some things that would be nearly impossible in real life are possible with technology.

“We have seen teachers go above and beyond over the last week and a half,” said North Cobb High School Principal Matthew Moody. “Our Fine Arts department has been creative, having live check-ins on Instagram and ‘Digital Spotlights’ where students submit videos. And, the Collaborative Communities are meeting regularly online to discuss student progress.”

Since most students were already familiar with many of the online technologies, it has made the transition much easier for parents. “We have tried not to overwhelm parents with too many tasks, sites, or brand-new tools,” said Frey Elementary fourth-grade teacher Pam Chaffins. “They have been very supportive.”

“The students are using Teams with very little difficulties,” she said. “They have been very eager to reconnect with their teachers and classmates. We seem to be getting into a good groove—parents are now familiar with the new ‘routine’ and are only having occasional questions related to technology.”

With several more weeks of digital learning already on the calendar, waiting for “normal” to return is not an option. Digital learning is the new normal for now, and Cobb teachers, students, parents, and administrators are embracing it and are continuing the mission of “One Team. One Goal: Student Success.”

“I have been surprised how digital resources have allowed myself and the students to maintain a strong sense of classroom community,” said Smyrna Elementary teacher Caitlyn McComas. “These resources have enhanced my student’s creativity and help to foster a sense of independence. And with increased parental involvement, our classroom community has actually been strengthened through digital learning.”