Online learning platforms allow educators to plan for unexpected

As students across Nevada go back to school this fall, they and their families are preparing for remarkably different circumstances. Under the specter of COVID-19, planning for unexpected disruptions to our work or learning environments has become a daily challenge — part of any state plan to return to a new “normal.” Right now, some Nevada school staff face mounting challenges as they prepare to reopen classrooms with student safety as a priority.

Virtual classrooms aren’t just a safety net — they are an inevitable demand for any system that aims to prioritize student health. Fortunately, a growing wealth of digital resources available to schools throughout Nevada has given our students a promise: learning will continue, whether in person or at home.

Across the country, as businesses have sought ways to move forward with their work while following social distancing guidelines, they’ve leaned on a growing network of online digital platforms to help shift their daily responsibilities to a more remote setting. Now, as some schools begin to open in person, they can benefit from the same investments. Work-from-home platforms, digital advertising and online sales services have revolutionized small business operations and provided a level of flexibility that helped companies rebound and shift operations in the face of adversity. And with a standardized school curriculum throughout Nevada’s public system, connecting classrooms with digital resources can offer the same flexibility in emergency preparedness.

That’s why the Nevada Department of Education partnered with Vegas PBS to create One Place Nevada. A digital portal housing hundreds of thousands of instructional media resources aligned with Nevada Academic Content Standards, the platform gives students the opportunity to learn from home in the event that classrooms can’t be open. While we hope that most students will never need to worry about learning when leaving the classroom, the reality is that our school openings will require constant monitoring and many back-up resources. And the online classroom, today, is more capable of supporting high-level instruction and collaborative learning than ever before.

Even more, this program is a trial run of an overdue transition in our country: One that looks to integrate digital resources into our schools, allowing those with sudden health and family circumstances, as well as those with unique learning needs, the opportunity to learn remotely. Taking the classroom home in times of need offers a safer setting for those experiencing classroom disruptions, ensuring no student is forced to put his/her educational progress on pause and get caught in a game of catch-up.

Funded by a grant from the Nevada Department of Education, Vegas PBS has been able to create and administer this statewide instructional portal in order to increase access to high-quality educational materials for students and educators. Providing educators with tools and strategies to succeed as well as professional development to hone their skills in this new learning environment, the program also allows our state to make Nevada’s schools among the most enterprising and connected while empowering our students to thrive in an increasingly digital workspace.

Looking past One Place Nevada, the future of the digital classroom is full of promise. Platforms like Google Classroom, Docs and Meet allow students, today, to share in digital learning experiences. Offering video chat, grading services and shared, collaborative documents that allow students access from anywhere with an internet connection, they form a new system of flexible education tools. And services like TurnItIn can help teachers ensure that academic integrity remains, whether in the physical classroom or online.

As lawmakers look toward the future, it’s clear that supporting investment and innovation in affordable and free digital platforms — from business growth to academic growth for our children — can play a vital role in keeping our state on the path to progress. We’re on the verge of a new era in education, and the challenges we face during COVID-19 can help lay the groundwork for more adaptive and student-centered school systems in Nevada and throughout the country. Today, it’s our time to seize on that promise and ensure digital platforms are bolstered by informed and supportive public policy.

Niki Bates is the director of Vegas PBS’ Educational Media Services.

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