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A $2.4 million project aims to help Indiana teachers improve online learning

Boy wearing headphones while using laptop during homework at home.
The lab comes at a moment when it is increasingly clear that many Indiana schools will rely on remote instruction in the coming months.

As school districts across Indiana prepare to begin the year remotely or offer virtual options, a new $2.4 million effort aims to improve educational quality by offering educators lesson plans, training, and a virtual place to collaborate with colleagues from across the state.

The Indiana eLearning Lab website, which launched Wednesday and is free to use, will be a single hub where teachers can connect with others tackling the same challenges, find high-quality learning material vetted by experts, and ultimately improve remote schooling. The website will also have resources for families. A live help desk will be available on weekdays.

The lab, which is one of the projects paid for through the Marion County e-learning fund, comes at a moment when it is increasingly clear that many Indiana schools will rely on remote instruction in the coming months as coronavirus infections increase in Indiana. A growing number of districts — including Washington Township, South Bend, and Gary — have announced plans to begin the year virtually. Several other districts have delayed the start of the year.

“Teachers are going to have to be more flexible and adaptive to the situation than ever. And so we hope this is a resource they go to often as things change for them,” said Claire Fiddian-Green, president of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, one of the groups behind the e-learning fund. (The Fairbanks Foundation also supports Chalkbeat.)

The lab will be funded in part by an $800,000 contribution from the College Football Playoff Foundation and the Indianapolis host committee for the 2022 championship.

“Rather than reinventing the wheel district by district, the lab gives superintendents [and] school leaders a critical tool to support our teachers, social workers, counselors during a challenging time,” said Shawn Smith, superintendent of Lawrence Township schools, at a press conference Wednesday.

The e-learning fund is dedicating a large portion of its money to making sure students have devices and internet access for remote learning. In April, it distributed $1.5 million to help Marion County public schools pay for badly needed technology for students. And it is currently reviewing proposals for a possible citywide cellular network for students.

But those technical investments must coincide with efforts to improve the quality of remote learning, which schools statewide were forced to shift to overnight, Fiddian-Green said.

“The good news is that e-learning isn’t new.… There have been pioneers in e-learning, including in Indiana, for almost a decade,” she said. “The plan is to try to take those more micro levels of success and help scale that up.”

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