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Dist. 203 debates pros and cons of new online system

Naperville Unit District 203 may purchase a new system that allows students to check their assignments and classroom events online. It also allows for online discussions among students, which has some school board members concerned. (Melissa Jenco/Tribune)

Naperville Unit District 203 may purchase a new system that allows students to check their assignments and classroom events online. It also allows for online discussions among students, which has some school board members concerned. (Melissa Jenco/Tribune)

Naperville Unit District 203 may purchase a new software system to keep students and parents up to date with what’s happening in the classroom.

However, the interactive capabilities that have got some teachers excited are also causing concern for some school board members who wonder how the site will be monitored.

District 203 currently uses SharePoint at the elementary level and Blackboard for junior high and high school students. Tim Wierenga, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, assessment, said the current programs, known as learning management systems, are outdated and not meeting teachers’ needs, prompting the search for a new one.

“The LMS system extends the learning environment outside the four walls of our classrooms,” Wierenga said. “It takes the learning to the students where the students are.”

After studying and piloting several systems, administrators are recommending a $250,000 contract for a system called Canvas and recently made an hour-long presentation to the school board on the system’s features.

Jefferson Junior High teacher Josh Louis told the board the system is personalized for each student and will allow them to log in and see upcoming events and class assignments. Parents also can get updates about classroom events and curriculum via email or text message.

For teachers, there is a feature that allows them to collect students’ assignments electronically and grade them more easily using an interactive list of criteria. They can then have one-on-one discussions with the student about the assignment using the site.

The system also provides an online discussion board, which sparked the most discussion Wednesday.

“That feature is really neat about this particular system in that it allows you to do that and create a more interactive environment,” Louis said.

He showed the board how he posted a video about photosynthesis for his students and then they each were able to comment on the topic. Another teacher said when her student’s grandparent died, he posted a picture of her and other students added supportive comments for him.

But school board member Terry Fielden was among several who expressed concerns about online interactions.

“There’s enough evidence of bullying going on in other social media without us making avenue for that to occur,” he said.

Wierenga said he believed allowing students to interact on the site could instead curb online hazing because students would be spending their time on a district-monitored site instead of a social media site where administrators have no control.

But who would monitor the discussions and how often also presented an issue for some on the board. They noted some teachers piloting the system were online responding to students’ questions late at night.

“I think it can be used as a great tool, but I too am concerned this discussion among students is going on in the evening,” Vice President Jackie Romberg said. “It’s not your responsibility to look at it at 10:30 and then at 11. … When does the teacher’s day end?”

The school board did not vote on the proposed system. It will continue to discuss it next month.

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