Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools is Saskatchewan’s largest Catholic school division. It is our privilege to serve more than 20,000 students in 7 high schools and 43 elementary schools. As well, we co-manage Humboldt Collegiate Institute with Horizon School Division. Our schools are located in Saskatoon, Humboldt, Biggar, Warman and Martensville. We proudly partner with First Nations and Métis families and communities. Our school division currently employs approximately 2,100 full and part-time teaching, support and service staff.
The past two years have been difficult for so many people across so many industries. The pandemic has affected us all. Schools and divisions were required to create solutions for problems that we’ve never experienced before, and with little to no time to plan before implementation. Distance learning was forced upon students in our province, and all over the world.
At Saskatoon Catholic Cyber School, we discussed pathways that would benefit our teachers who were going to be placed in impossible situations. We had our division technology team develop a script for our learning management system (Moodle) to create hybrids of all of our Cyber School online courses. We then imported each teacher and the students assigned to their classroom from our division student information system (Maplewood) into a private ‘group’ within that hybrid. When teachers and students would log in to our Cyber School, they would see a full list of their face-to-face classes. The students and teachers only had access to their own group within the online classes and could not see anyone else except their own cohort even though there were hundreds of students in each hybrid online, so there was no concern of privacy issues or school cross-over.
When teachers saw this option, many of them started teaching their face-to-face classrooms using our hybrids as their course outline. They used smart boards that exist in all of our division classrooms with their students and our online courses as their day-to-day lessons. When classrooms were forced to online learning because of COVID protocols, students could log in from home along with their teachers, and the continuity of the lessons were intact. When the classroom(s) were allowed to return to the school building, they could transition back to in-person learning having the online course available once again within the classroom environment. Not every teacher chose this route, but many did, and they didn’t have to request it – our Cyber School pushed it out through the scripting, and teachers had it available to them if they wanted it.
We also provided this service to any schools in any divisions who requested it. We partnered with over a dozen other First Nation groups and school divisions to help them navigate the pandemic.
In the end, the pandemic forced teachers to work in online environments where many never thought they would have to venture. As with most situations, even difficult ones, there are positive aspects that grew out of the experience. Teachers in GSCS developed their computer literacy skills in ways that would have taken years of professional development to achieve a fraction of what they now know. The experience also provided them with insight into distance learning – something that many did not know about or understand the way they do now. Understandably, many would never want to venture out into that world again, but most now have a stronger appreciation for what distance education entails, and many have continued to subscribe to using our hybrids as digital classroom resources where they probably wouldn’t have before.