After a month off from school due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, FCPS students “returned to school” on April 14 through the county’s distance learning program. For high school students, this entails weekly live online classes through Blackboard Collaborate, similar to Zoom, as well as other assignments that students are to complete throughout the week. The goal of the live streams is for students and teachers to connect in real-time to answer questions, go over lessons, and engage with each other like they would on any other school day.
The reason it took a month from the first day of school closure to the start of distance learning is so that the county could find a platform on which all students could participate in the online sessions, which can be especially challenging for a county like FCPS which has a student body of over 187,000 across all of its elementary, middle, and high schools. However, within the first two days, teachers and students in all three school divisions experienced several security issues resulting from students posting inappropriate messages in the chat anonymously, joining classes they are not enrolled in, and even joining sessions from other schools. This prevented many of them from holding the online classes, and the superintendent canceled classes for the remainder of the week.
After the superintendent outlined the measures the county was taking in order to improve the system, there were still multiple problems the following Monday when online classes resumed. These measures included requiring students to log in directly through the Blackboard Collaborate website, which would save the student’s name in the session so teachers are aware of who is actually attending their classes. However, there were also some technical issues that came from a large amount of traffic the site experienced which it simply could not handle. This led the county to, once again, cancel classes for the second week of distance learning.
Although the county has not outlined exactly how they are going to proceed with distance learning in the coming weeks, Oakton High School has taken measures into their own hands and developed a system which would allow students to access their live classes through a safe link that wouldn’t require them to log-in through Blackboard, thus avoiding any possible issues associated with the site. While this system seems to be working so far for Oakton, this still leaves other schools in the county, however, without a way to provide synchronous learning for their students.
This is definitely a confusing, stressful, and unprecedented time in our county’s history, but students should remember that this is only temporary. The county has stated that they are in fact working on implementing a system that can allow everyone to learn in a safe and effective environment. What this system will be is still a mystery but can hopefully come into place to make distance learning a reality.