Some Glitches as Broward Schools Start Virtual Learning Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Students began taking classes online, their first classes since Superintendent Robert Runcie suspended in-person sessions before spring break

NBC Universal, Inc.

Get used to it, kids, distance learning is your new normal. 

Students in Broward County Public Schools began their experience with online learning Monday morning, but the system was plagued with glitches amid the growing coronavirus pandemic. 

Broward Schools uses the Canvas learn platform, which many schools and colleges all over the world also use, and Canvas could not handle the surge in use. The system crashed, leaving students and teachers unable to log on and many webpages unresponsive. 

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“It’s just taking a very long time to get on it,” said Travis Burke, a junior at South Broward High School. 

Travis was sitting at his dining room table with his brother, Sean, and his father, Matt Burke. Sean and Travis were each using the laptops provided by the district for distance learning. Matt  Burke was  there to help but also to  teach his own class.  He’s a PE teacher at  South Broward High.

“It’s the first day, it’s gonna be expected, there’s gonna be a couple of days to work the kinks out, but hopefully we get into next week, things will be ready to rock and roll,” Burke said.

At first, early in the morning, the system worked well. 7th grader Sean was able to get his science and English assignments done, but then the platform buckled under the weight of 200,000 Broward students trying to use it at the same time as countless more students around the world. 

“Broward is one of our largest customers in terms of student count. We worked with the Broward teams to ensure that Canvas would scale to meet their needs, but as they brought their students online today, the significantly higher usage rates caused some slowness or outages. This is a Canvas issue. We are actively working with Broward to resolve it as quickly as possible. We apologize and fully appreciate the challenges this presents as students move back to school virtually.  As of today, our concurrent usage across the whole of Canvas is more than 60% higher than it was just a week ago. We are scaling up to meet the demands of school systems globally,” said Canvas spokesperson Cory Edwards. 

“We’ve been working with them and making it very clear that these problems need to be resolved immediately, we have assurances from them that it will be resolved  this afternoon so tomorrow, everyone should have a much better experience,” said superintendent Robert Runcie. 

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Meanwhile, some teachers found ways to engage their students online. Pre-K teacher Sheryl Munoz read to her kids at Gulfstream Early Learning Center through her webcam. 

”It’s like the first day of school, they were sitting and they had a lot to tell you, and they were al enthusiastic, everybody was singing, it was amazing,” Munoz said. 

But here’s the thing about distance learning: no matter how good they can make it, it can’t replace what actually happens in a school building, that interaction between teacher and student and between students and all of their friends.

“If you need to ask your teacher a question, you can’t just raise your hand, you gotta go on your phone, text her, wait for a response, if you don’t understand you have to text her again,” Travis said, expressing the frustration he felt today, which hopefully will be alleviated as the system performs better. 

The district has passed out 82,000 laptops for free, with connectivity supplied for free by Comcast, the owners of NBCUniversal and NBC 6.

“We’re trying to insure that teaching and learning continues while our campuses are closed, but there is no replacement for the interaction and value that our teachers and staff provide,” Runcie said.

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