FCPS Distance Learning program off to a rough start

FCPS Distance Learning program off to a rough start

In the weeks leading up to Monday of last week, FCPS rolled out their plan for distance learning for schools across the county.

In a series of emails, the county explained that schools K-8 would be primarily using Blackboard Collaborator, a video call system similar to Zoom, to teach students.

As for high school students in the county, learning would be composed of both synchronous and asynchronous opportunities; giving students flexibility in the time they complete assignments and structure to attend 45 minute teacher led seminars. 

AHS, however, took a different route in the first week of distance learning.

For the whole week, there were no block schedules for synchronous learning, despite the county stating that these will be held every Tuesday and Thursday. 

All learning for AHS students was asynchronous and the designated “office hours” time for each individual teacher was the only live interaction available between teacher and student.

It did not take long for the difference in the AHS distance learning schedule to be noticed and soon the countywide plan spread to AHS.

Teachers and students were informed that Tuesday and Thursday would have video chats at designated times for Red and White days, respectively.

However, FCPS had bigger challenges to face than making sure all schools were following the guidelines given by the county. 

On the first day of distance learning, students across the county found that Blackboard, the application to access both asynchronous and synchronous learning opportunities, was experiencing technical difficulties. 

The website for Blackboard itself crashed on multiple occasions and ran incredibly slow.

As for students and teachers attempting to use Blackboard Collaborate, security breaches halted the success of synchronous learning. 

FCPS superintendent Scott Brabrand issued a statement formally cancelling class on Thursday and Friday of last week so the software issues could be corrected. 

“We sincerely appreciate your patience and share your frustration related to our distance learning challenges this week,” Brabrand said in his statement. 

As the second week of distance learning rolled around, students saw no improvement in the quality of their synchronous learning. 

Blackboard Collaborate was still experiencing technical difficulties and frustration was growing within the county.

In a message from Brabrand, FCPS would be moving away from Blackboard in hopes to find a secure system for distance learning to continue. 

“We recognize that our students and teachers need a reliable system for virtual learning; therefore, we are going to move away from Blackboard Learn 24-7 as a tool for face to face instruction,” Brabrand said in the message. 

It is to be noted that Blackboard will still be used for any asynchronous learning, whether it be posting assignments or lessons for students to do. 

The change in face-to-face instruction is still uncertain for the remainder of the year, but Brabrand provided a glimpse of what is to be expected.

“Schools will be preparing to provide virtual instruction through a secure Blackboard Collaborate Ultra link or through other alternative means,” Brabrand said.

The FCPS distance learning program has disappointed many early on, considering how highly respected the county is nationwide. 

“Face to face learning is very important especially for younger kids and this past week has been actually sad,” senior Nia Lewis said.