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Opinion Lessons on using technology in distance learning

Fairfax County Public Schools’ remote learning portal, with a maintenance notice posted April 16. (Fairfax County Public Schools)

The May 17 Metro article “Fairfax beset by virtual bullying” painted an incomplete and inaccurate portrait of distance learning in Fairfax County Public Schools. I am a teacher at Rachel Carson Middle School, where we have been using Blackboard Collaborate since the week after the “fiasco,” having implemented the required changes of creating a unique invite for each student. Students can no longer pass along codes that lead to random guests. In Blackboard Collaborate, unlike Google Meet, the teacher has the ability to turn off the mic, video and chat features, and to activate them as needed during a session.

Based on feedback from my colleagues, we all have been having positive, interactive experiences for at least three weeks. The article appeared to be based on limited interviews that led the reporter to make broad conclusions that do not reflect the system as a whole. In so doing, the article undercut the good work of educators under these extraordinary circumstances.

Pai Rosenthal, Sterling

Rather than further restrict students’ use of technology, can we find solutions that teach students how to use the technology appropriately and engage them in crafting and implementing the solution?

Fairfax County Public Schools already places strict limits on technology, restricting students and staff so that students have a difficult time engaging with others outside the FCPS ecosystem. There is a strong bias against using technology that is “free” — the price is sharing user data. These limits make it difficult for students to engage in authentic work with outside parties, e.g., researchers at universities, legislators and their staffs, and peers in other school systems. They also communicate that the technology is dangerous, which makes it harder to teach students how to use technology responsibility. Further, they also risk undermining our credibility, because students are already using the technology in their private lives.

We need nuanced controls and input from our most experienced students about how to improve use of and behavior with online technology. Rather than treat kindergartners and 12th-graders the same, we need a sliding scale of connectivity that increases for high school students. We also need to identify and enlist students who have demonstrated their maturity to work with adults to shape and implement technology and use policies and behavior norms, including consequences for inappropriate use.

Our whole political system is built on trust, engagement and oversight. Let’s use this “teachable moment” to engage our students, enlisting them to help us support and protect each other.

Monte F. Bourjaily IV, Alexandria

The writer is a teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology.

Read more letters to the editor.

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