Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Virtual Snow Days?

(photo courtesy of Bangor Daily News)

In the 2013-2014, our coastal Maine high school was in session until one week before July 4th.  Why?  We had a series of snow days as a result of a fairly persistent barrage of winter storms.  Now, it is only the first week in November, and I scratch my head over the possibility of being home for my third “snow day” in a row.  Technically, this is a power outage day as Emera Maine has not yet restored electricity to at least 15,000 customers three days after powerful winds, heavy snow and broken branches disrupted lines.  Meanwhile, exasperated teachers in our district are posting videos all over social media about holding remote, synchronous classes and providing more online learning.

Personally, I am supportive of this idea.  Who wouldn’t love to be able to face days without disruption?  Well, OK, maybe day 1 of a storm “event” could be forgiven.  It’s a bonus day, right?  This three day break came at the end of the 1st quarter.  Grades were completed, students all caught up, and teachers were ready to roll on new units of study.  For day one, sure, cocoa and books and candle light.  After that, let the asynchronous studies begin.*

Why asynchronous?  For one, I am not ready to be at home and “delivering” a lesson on a live webcam.  It seems fraught with potential problems.  Juggling 20 different Skype or Hangout plugins just doesn’t seem realistic.  Also, is it fair to deliver classroom content only to those students who have WiFi or internet at speeds high enough to do so?  What about the fact that in instances like our present one, the issue is power outage?  How could teachers be assured that students actually knew of the content being covered on a given day?

With prior planning, much could actually be accomplished without having to be online.  Humanities teachers can establish a syllabus of reading and short written responses which students can follow, regardless of technology needs.  We simply need to be flexible about deadlines, as students will be in various states of readiness when returning to school.  Perhaps such a syllabus and plan makes sense for the second and third quarters (or middle trimester) in Maine.  From the beginning of November to the end of March, students and teachers could know exactly what is being covered each day.  A few days without instruction would not be the end of the world.

Of course, this model requires student readiness.  They need to be committed to engaging classroom assignments outside of class.  Parents need to check in with students before and after heading out to work.  Do they know what they need to cover?  Did they cover it?  No, this will not work with science labs, studio arts which require particular materials and equipment, theater which requires rehearsal, sports and a host of other disciplines.  However, just because we cannot cover all areas does not mean that all areas should lose ground.

Though it may not come to a town near you, tomorrow, I suspect some form of asynchronous or online learning will be coming to a snow day near you within the decade.

* What is asynchronous learning? has a pretty good break down. It might be simplistic, but it gets the job done. Check it out.

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