Since Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced statewide school closures March 15, Catholic schools around the diocese have been getting creative with technology to implement distance learning.
One of the most popular tools is YouTube, an online video-sharing platform. The site allows teachers and students to watch videos, upload original content and share it.
“This is new for us,” said Ann Dettmann, principal of St. Andrew School in Elk River. “Father Mark [Innocenti] suggested we explore this tool, and so we did.”
Students can view announcements from the principal, prayers and birthday announcement each morning, as well as video greetings from their teachers.
“It allows our students to see us, smiling,” Dettmann said. “I think that goes a long way in helping them feel a bit calmer during these stressful times. Some have sent videos back of the students returning our greetings, so it warms our hearts, too.”
Students at Holy Trinity School in Pierz have been using the school’s YouTube channel to share presentations with each other and their families for about a year. The staff recently posted a video they recorded of the Children’s Stations of the Cross.
Teachers also are recording themselves teaching lessons, giving morning greetings, leading prayers and using educational resources to engage students from different locations in the school building.
“Recording will take place in multiple places throughout the school to keep students connected,” said Principal Debra Meyer-Myrum.
Having this time as well as the necessity for staff to develop their technology skills is a gift, she said. It’s an opportunity to look at new ways to engage students in learning and make connections with the community.
“It’s always important to look at the gifts that come out of a difficult situation,” Meyer-Myrum said.
Online safety is an issue for educators when using a platform as large as YouTube.
“We learned about SafeYoutube.net, and that is huge for us,” Dettmann said. “It allows us to share the links in a way that doesn’t expose our children to other YouTube content that might not be appropriate.”
Because YouTube has policies in place to protect children from inappropriate content and commercials, schools will be more likely to keep using it in the future, Meyer-Myrum said.
Dettmann said she hopes the use of video helps add a bit of normality to this time of uncertainty and change.
“We love and miss our students,” she said. “We know this connection is important to foster even though we can’t be together.”