As a kid Gino loved video games and Nintendo. “I was thrilled when my dad bought me my first computer in grade six. It was a Commodore 64.”
By Tracey Skehan
Gino Russo (BSc’00/BEd’01) faced a huge challenge when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down Northwestern Ontario. The information technology consultant teacher had to shift the entire Lakehead Public Schools system to remote learning at the drop of a hat.
March Break was cancelled for Gino as he scrambled to get ready. “I ran eight sessions in a row the first week I was training teachers and staff. There were so many requests from students and staff moving online all at once.”
Typically, Gino’s role is to coach students and support teachers who want to expand blended learning and communications technology in the classroom.
“I try to bring coherence and streamline the possibilities. There’s many tools we could be using, I steer teachers to the best ones. Edsby, for instance, allows teachers to post assignments, give feedback, and give online quizzes.”
But when COVID-19 changed how Canadians live and work, Gino found himself in an entirely different situation. “Many parents felt overwhelmed and students were afraid they would lose credits. It was pretty stressful.”
Every elementary and high school student enrolled at Lakehead Public Schools was contacted to see if they needed laptops or devices. By early April, 80% of students were able to log on to an online portal and learn from home.
“The goal is to teach the essentials of courses, maintain connection, and strengthen the emotional health of our students,” Gino says. Technology that wasn’t available even a few years ago is making this possible.
“When you give students a Microsoft Teams connection, their faces light up because they can see their classmates and teachers again. It gives them an anchor.”
In some respects, Gino believes that online learning has advantages, because in a physical classroom it’s hard to make sure that everyone participates. “The same four students who aren’t shy put their hand up and the other students have to listen.”
Online tools like Microsoft’s Flipgrid can change this dynamic. Teachers are able to post a prompting question like, “Did anyone see the Aurora Borealis?” and then students use their phones to film videos, post them, watch other student’s videos, and show their reactions.
“The kids who need 20 minutes to reflect can think about a question, see how other people have responded, and maybe post an incredible response,” he says.
As Canadians continue to practice social distancing, Gino encourages parents not to be afraid to ask for one on one help from their child’s teacher – either with a phone call or an email – and to remember that this is emergency learning.
“We are not an online school, so we should have some flexibility in our tasks and make them fun.”
Gino also urges students to share their knowledge with their teachers to make online learning better.
“Most students know a lot about tech. A teacher might ask them to make a poster with a specific tool, not knowing that you can use many other tools to create one.”
The students aren’t the only ones adjusting to a new way of doing things. Gino is working remotely while his two daughters spend their days at home.
“They’re rolling around playing with dolls. I find it a blessing to be able to spend more time with them,” he says.
After getting a computer science degree at Lakehead, Gino started an internet company. When the dotcom bubble burst in 2000, Gino went back to Lakehead to get an education degree at Lakehead. While teaching in Thunder Bay high schools, Gino also earned a master’s in computer science degree from Capital University in Maryland. It was one of the only online master’s degrees in the continent for computer science at that time.