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Span Leads New 'Illinois Virtual Partnership with Schools' Project

by Emily Hays, Illinois Public Media / Feb 9, 2023

University of Illinois associate chancellors Christopher Span (left) and Wanda Ward prepare for a panel hosted by Illinois Public Media in Urbana on Feb. 2, 2023. Photo by Emily Hays/Illinois Public Media.

By the fall, a high school student struggling with homework will be able to log onto a University of Illinois social media platform to get tutoring directly from students at the university. Their teacher will be able to use the same platform to get professional development.

That’s the vision for a new project, tentatively named “Illinois Virtual Partnership with Schools.”

“I always think of Mr. Rogers in his moment. He knew he couldn’t get people to stop watching television, but he wondered if for at least 30 minutes out of the day, could you watch something that would be beneficial for your educational advancement?” said U. of I. chief of staff and associate chancellor Christopher Span.

Span, a longtime professor of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, also heads up pre-kindergarten-12th grade initiatives in Urbana-Champaign, including this project.

Span and the team working on the platform are modeling it on sites like Instagram and TikTok, because that’s where teens spend much of their time.

The idea came from talks last summer with 40-plus people in pre-K-12 education, Span said. He heard about learning loss and isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic and began brainstorming a way the university could help.

Chancellor Robert J. Jones approved the project earlier this month. He told an audience at Illinois Public Media’s recent News, Brews and Beatz event that the project continues university efforts to diversify its student body.

“You complain now about the number of Black and brown students we have. If we don’t do something, starting 10 years ago, it’s going to be a real problem for us all,” Jones said.

Span said he hopes to test the platform by the end of the spring semester and roll it out to high schools in the fall. Eventually, he hopes to expand the tutoring as early as first grade.