A district-wide drill in the Winnipeg School Division next week won’t focus on fire, bus evacuation or lockdown safety measures — but rather, how-to learn remotely in a pandemic.
K-12 students enrolled across 79 schools in central Winnipeg are expected to participate in a mock critical (code red) scenario Tuesday morning.
Students are to arrive at school as usual, unless they are participating in remote learning or self-isolating, as per COVID-19 public health rules.
"The practice, much like a fire drill, is to help our schools identify if we’ve missed anything in our planning for going to remote learning due to a red level at either a school or across the division," Radean Carter, WSD senior information officer, said in a statement to the Free Press.
Carter said WSD wants to ensure it is providing the support both teachers and schools-at-large need, so the drill is an opportunity to see what more the division can do to help.
While students will be focused on curriculum throughout the day, some time will be devoted in the morning to make sure they know how to access remote learning.
"There’s an assumption that kids are digital natives, but educators will tell you that that is different from asking a kid in a timely manner to log into the Google Suite, access documents, save and upload them properly, and so on," said Margaux Miller of Tech Manitoba.
Key computer skills students need to learn in order to become digitally literate include typing, device troubleshooting, and how-to save files safely and so they are easily accessible, Miller said, adding such skills are expected to be interwoven with other lessons at school.
Miller oversees the DigitALL program, which offers Manitobans training on digital literacy and various online platforms.
Since the spring, upwards of 1,300 teachers — from WSD and elsewhere — have participated in DigitALL’s introduction to Microsoft Teams and Google Classroom course.
While these training opportunities were available before the pandemic, Miller said there’s no doubt COVID-19 has put the importance of digital literacy, as well as the digital divide, in the spotlight.
Some families have experienced severe lags online because multiple students are participating in livestreams at a time, while those without reliable internet have been given worksheets. Divisions have set-up Wi-Fi hotspots to address divides, but Miller said there needs to be a longer-term solution: affordable, reliable and accessible internet for all.
The Canadian government, Information and Communications Technology Council, and Tech Manitoba are planning to release a collaborative report on the implications of connectivity on tech-equity and education in Manitoba next month.
On Tuesday, WSD is anticipating glitches and troubleshooting, which won’t all be resolved in one morning, Carter said. She noted the purpose of the drill is to allow students to get familiar with signing in and navigating virtual learning.
"At the same time, it gives us an opportunity to reduce the anxiety that comes with a sudden flip to remote learning because students have had the opportunity to try it out, ask questions in person and become more familiar with the process," Carter added.
At least 6,400 students in Winnipeg schools are doing temporary remote learning, in addition to hundreds of others who have been approved for distance lessons on the basis of medical exemptions.
Aside from Steinbach-area schools, which are currently in the most severe level of the pandemic response system, Manitoba schools remain in the restricted (code orange) phase.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.