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What Hall Schools digital director says about virtual learning in coming year
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From left, Cameron Blankenship, Arlen Osorio, Anna Osorio, Allen Osorio and Madison Blankenship work on their online learning assignments from home. Photo courtesy Diana Blankenship Osorio.

Hall County Schools announced earlier this week that students would have the option to choose either in-person or virtual learning this fall, leaving the choice in the hands of parents. And while all Hall County students dealt with online learning this spring, the coming semester’s virtual experience will be a bit different, according to Eddie Millwood, HCSD director of digital convergence.

“I think it’s real important that we do differentiate between what happened in the spring and what virtual learning is going to look like this fall,” Millwood said. “In the spring, our entire school district quickly shifted to a school from home scenario. Our teachers were solely teaching in that format. This upcoming year, we’re going to have face-to-face, and as it looks like now, the vast majority of our students will be in person. So really, it’s not going to look the same, because certainly, teachers cannot teach both face-to-face and full virtually.”

Millwood said some decisions regarding virtual learning were still going to depend on the final number of students who opt for the online option, but as of now, the school district is planning on a digital plan that will be fully online and not require a teacher to be present at all lessons — unlike the virtual experience Hall schools students had in the spring.

The online courses will still be managed by Hall County teachers, and instructors will be available to video chat with students for regular check-ins as well as to provide face-to-face help when a student is struggling with a certain concept.

“The teacher will still check in, provide support, provide feedback, but a lot of the content will be delivered very asynchronously,” Millwood said. “So that’s how it’s really different from what happened in the spring.

Millwood said the school district has not yet decided how teachers would be distributing virtual learning duties, a choice that will be dependent on how many students end up going with the online option.

Some teachers may be responsible for both in person and virtual courses, but if enough students select digital learning, there could be teachers designated specifically to teach in that format. Millwood said the district would work with principals to create an individual plan that works best for each school.

Most important, according to Millwood, is that the school system is not simply going to forget about the students who do not return to school buildings this fall. While their instruction will not be as closely monitored as those receiving face-to-face lessons, virtual students will still have the ability to communicate directly with teachers through Canvas, the learning management system used by the school district.

HCSD will also be distributing Chromebooks to students who need them, and will work with families who do not have easy access to reliable internet connection to make sure all Hall County students are accommodated.

“They’re not going to just be out on an island alone,” Millwood said.