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New ‘eLearning Lab’ Aims To Help Indiana Teachers, Families Grasp Virtual Learning During Pandemic

By Eric Weddle, IPB News | Published on in Education
The website of the Indiana eLearning Lab on Wednesday, July 22, 2020.
The website of the Indiana eLearning Lab on Wednesday, July 22, 2020.

A $2.4 million digital hub for educators to get professional development on virtual learning launched Wednesday. The Indiana eLearning Lab is also intended to help students’ caregivers better understand how to interact with online learning, as many schools make it a focus due to the pandemic.

A WFYI analysis found nearly all Central Indiana public school districts are offering remote learning as an option. Still, some school leaders have already warned communities that school buildings could again close and virtual instruction becoming the only option if the COVID-19 infection continues to increase.

Wednesday, the Indianapolis E-Learning Fund, a civic and philanthropic group that includes Mayor Joe Hogsett’s office, announced results from a May survey that found public and private school teachers are overwhelmingly interested in accessing virtual professional development.

More than 80 percent of respondents reported feeling challenged to keep students engaged during online instruction.

“Rather than re-inventing the wheel district by district, the lab gives resources” that can support teachers, social workers, and other educators in the virtual realm, said Shawn Smith, Lawrence Township superintendent, during a virtual press conference.

Claire Fiddian-Green, president and CEO of Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, said the lab will help teachers learn how to translate their in-person teaching to the virtual space.

“It will not be a place where you can just get a curriculum in a box. It is going to be lesson plans, that teachers can take and adapt, to their own classrooms and their own students,” she said of the lab. “And they also have the autonomy and creativity that teachers love and enjoy about their profession..”

The free lab will offer lessons on professional development and suggested classroom content to any educators in the state. Teachers could learn how to use Epic, a virtual digital reading platform. They can also share information and form communities in the progal.

An online help desk will be available for educators 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays to answer questions about the lab or virtual teaching.

The lab is operated by the national nonprofit State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) and the Sellersburg-based education technology provider Five Star Technology Solutions. The Mind Trust, the Indianapolis-based education reform nonprofit, will oversee the first year of operations.

The cost for the lab comes from the Indianapolis eLearning Fund, which was established to help Indianapolis schools, families and educators statewide navigate virtual learning during the COVID-19 crisis.

In April, the fund distributed $1.5 million to public schools in Marion County to help low-income students get computers and internet service for their remote e-learning.

Philantopic, business and education groups seeded the fund, including Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, Eli Lilly and Company Foundation, EdChoice, The Mind Trust, and United Way of Central Indiana.

The College Football Playoff Foundation and the host committee for its national championship event, planned for Indianapolis in 2022, donated $800,000 for the lab.

Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at eweddle@wfyi.org or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.