Remote Learning: Waterloo Region District School Board

Due to the pandemic, the Ministry of Education in Ontario had announced that school attendance was going to be voluntary and based on parent’s choice for the 2020-2021 school year. For parents who chose not to send their children back to school, school boards had to be prepared to offer remote education. For medium to large boards, such as Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB), the concept of octomesters and quadmesters was often chosen as a semester strategy. This concept would allow students to focus on fewer courses in smaller cohorts.

Problem Faced by Boards due to Remote Learning

The initial plan created by Waterloo Region District School Board was the same plan many Boards chose during this time of uncertainty. They attempted to use their internal Student Information System (SIS – Trillium) to register students into their newly created remote learning virtual school. For virtual schools to operate successfully, teachers must have access to registered students’ information. For this to occur, WRDSB had to transfer remote learning students from their home school to the virtual school since a student is only allowed to be tied to 1 school in the SIS. However, once the transfer occurred numerous significant problems were discovered:

  • How would the student’s original home school contacts follow his/her progress?
  • How would the remote learning teacher/principal contact the home school?
  • How do you support the government guideline allowing students to switch from school to remote learning?
  • How to keep the students tied to their parent school in SIS, while they opt for remote learning courses offered by another virtual school from the school board?

These problems can be summed up into registration and communication issues, both of which PRISM was built to solve.


How does PRISM solve the problem?

PRISM was designed for this exact purpose. PRISM is a centralized registration system that supports both centralized delivery and distributed delivery. In this case, centralized delivery was occurring at a virtual school within the school board, but what was needed was a centralized registration system for all the schools to be utilizing.

WRDSB took a step back, reviewed their options to solve the virtual school registration issue, and selected PRISM to solve their problem. PRISM allows the students to stay at their home school, and at the same time allows the student information to be shared with another school, in this case, the virtual school. WRDSB only had to add the newly created virtual school to PRISM, and the rest took care of itself. At this point, WRDSB created the virtual school course offerings and set them to only be viewable by their Board, which in turn allows all their schools access to these courses.

All guidance counsellors and administration staff from their Board (no matter the school), now have access to register students into these courses. We also worked closely with WRDSB to enhance PRISM’s registration process to increase efficiency by providing the user with the ability to choose a specific class to register the student directly. This was a huge benefit as WRDSB could specify class identifiers (AM/PM, Block 1, Block 2, etc) to provide Guidance Counsellors with the necessary information to register their students into the proper class avoiding time table conflicts for the student. Once a student is registered into a class offered by the virtual school, the virtual school teacher would gain access to all the necessary student information and contacts.

By using PRISM to solve their registration problem, the WRDSB also benefited greatly from PRISM’s builtin communication tool, notifications, and reporting. Now a virtual school teacher can use PRISM’s progress and attendance modules to easily send notifications such as progress reports to the student’s home school contacts (including guidance counsellor, principal, spec-ed coordinator) concerning attendance issues, credit alerts, marks, and general progress. As well, reports are generated within PRISM for the virtual school and its students.

Lastly, WRDSB has utilized PRISM API integration to further automate their workflow. Each day PRISM provides an exported file of all registrations from the day, which WRDSB utilizes to synchronize the data in PRISM to their internal SIS. This allows PRISM to satisfy a need that Trillium is unable to provide, registration across schools. By synchronizing the data from PRISM to Trillium, WRDSB’s internal SIS can maintain data integrity since both PRISM and Trillium have the remote school designated as a separate school with its own administration.

PRISM allows the students to stay at their home school, and at the same time allows the student information to be shared with another school, in this case, the virtual school.

Results/Benefits of using PRISM to solve the problem.

When WRDSB initially looked to register slightly over 1,000 students into centralized specific courses for remote learning, it took a small team weeks to accomplish everything. That involved taking into account last-minute decisions by students and delays to the start date of classes. Once they began using PRISM for this purpose, they were able to disperse that immense workload into tangible chunks for each guidance counsellor. Guidance counsellors were able to choose the proper course offering for each student based on the students timing constraints and circumstances. This process will save Waterloo Region District School Board hundreds of hours as they look to register over 4,000 students for remote learning in the upcoming quadmesters.

One of their goals was to maintain data integrity in Trillium, and they are able to achieve that by using PRISM and its API integration to populate Trillium as needed. One of the added benefits of using PRISM is the builtin communication tool that provides virtual school teachers a means of communicate with all home schools’ necessary stakeholders via the platform. This feature is essential for successful remote/distance learning for students and schools.