As students and educators navigate distance learning amid school closures, the Kern County Superintendent of Schools announced Wednesday it has entered into a partnership with online learning platform Canvas, making it available to any Kern County school district for free through June 30.

The conversation about strengthening distance learning "couldn't be more timely," said KCSOS communications director Robert Meszaros, following Gov. Gavin Newsom's announcement Wednesday that schools would remain closed for the rest of the academic year.

Canvas is the world's fastest growing online learning platform, officials said during a Zoom meeting Wednesday, which has been accessed by more than 30 million users. Local districts can begin using the platform April 13.

For the past two weeks, KCSOS’s Instructional Services team has been creating an “online school” environment and customizing “virtual classrooms” using Canvas, complete with standards-based curriculum in English language arts and math for grades transitional kindergarten through 12th. English language development, science, history and social-emotional learning lessons are also in the works.

"This is a big shift for educators," said Lisa Gilbert, deputy superintendent. "We took the mindset that we wanted to create a one-stop-shop within a user-friendly platform that would not intimidate but that would allow administrators and teachers to connect with their students, to ensure continued learning for all..."

The Greenfield Union School District has served as the pilot district and will open virtual classrooms April 13. Around 15 Kern County school districts have signed on as early adopters and will be trained through Zoom meetings over the next two weeks.

Trainings for students and parents are also being created in English, Spanish and other languages.

According to KCSOS, Canvas’ core benefits include:

• Customizable for the needs of teachers and students

• Integrated with Zoom so students can interact in real-time with their teacher and classmates

• Integrates easily with other learning platforms like Google and over 350 education applications

• 24/7/365 user support at no-cost to districts

• Educators can share resources, curriculum, lessons and collaborate with peers

• Online classrooms are available to students via any mobile device

Available to students through Canvas will be video lessons, learning activities, daily assignments and quizzes. 

For English language arts, there is a tool called Immersive Reader that allows students to customize their learning in order to better fit their needs and increase engagement with the content. Students can adjust the size of text font and break down different parts of speech.

"We know in distance learning we still need to provide exceptional support for our students in a number of areas that they're still struggling to achieve mastery," explained Chris Persons, a management analyst.

Teachers will have access to videos on how to create courses on Canvas and upload content for students. They also can present lessons using Canvas’ video conferencing tool.

It will be up to individual districts to decide if and how they want to use Canvas.

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.

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