Technology has made its way into every facet of education - the front office, the health office, classrooms, athletics - and now it appears education technology can help prevent lost instructional time on snow days, too. While the concept of e-learning has been around for some time, only recently has it become a way to alleviate the school calendar headaches that come along with inclement weather-related closings.
According to the Education Commision of the States, laws vary from state to state on the minimum number of instructional days that students are required to have per year, but most require 180. In the midst of a particularly harsh winter in 2013-14, many schools and districts were forced to find creative ways to keep students on track to hit that number. Policies that allowed for e-learning days were the solution adopted in several areas of the country to minimize the impact of inclement weather.
Ensuring that learning doesn't stop, even when temperatures drop
The Indiana Department of Education knew they couldn’t face a setback like last year’s that forced schools to make up for an unusually high amount of missed time during spring break. To tackle the problem head on for the 2014-15 school year, 29 public schools and 8 private schools got approval to utilize a "virtual learning option” when they would otherwise have to miss an entire day.
So what does an e-learning day look like? So far, different schools and locales have each put their own spin on it. In Indiana, students would log onto the internet and use Google Hangouts to communicate with their teachers throughout the day. Even if they experienced connectivity issues, their specialized lesson plans or “e-learning bundles” were designed so that they could complete the assignments offline and turn them in later. For high schoolers at a few Pennsylvania Catholic schools, it meant using their school-issued Chromebooks to complete assignments that were sent by their teachers via email. In both scenarios, teachers and students had favorable opinions of the new format.
To me, e-learning days seem like a slam dunk when it comes to preparing students for the increased freedom and flexibility that comes with attending college. Why not give kids the opportunity to complete classroom exercises or assignments outside the traditional classroom setting? It’s also becoming increasingly likely that students will take online courses or even obtain a degree from an online institution. Giving them experience early on is just prepping them for the many options that will be available to them throughout their education and in the workforce.
As more and more schools incorporate technology into everyday instruction and issue devices to each of their students, the transition for using that same technology at home should be a relatively smooth one. But what about schools that don’t provide devices to the entire student population?
While there are certainly benefits to incorporating e-learning days into the school calendar, there are also some serious obstacles that certain areas might face. Two big hurdles standing in the way for many schools are internet access and device availability. This is the case for some rural school districts in Arkansas that were forced to cancel an unheard-of 18 days of school last year. Leaders expressed concern over the expense of providing technology to all of their students, as well as potential power outages that often accompany ice storms. Others worry that self-paced work wouldn’t be of the same quality as classroom instruction with a teacher.
Another consideration that seems to be overlooked is how to apply the concept of e-learning to the needs of young children in early elementary grades. Is it conceivable that they would benefit from working on tasks at home with little or no guidance? It seems less realistic when you think about it from this point of view.
Where do we go from here?
Everyone can agree that shortening spring break and extending the school year into the summer aren’t attractive options for schools, students, or parents. What are some other alternatives? Does your school have a policy that addresses this? Feel free to share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.
When schools have to deal with bigger problems than a snow storm, it's especially important to be prepared. Check out this blog post for tips on how to get students involved in disaster preparation or download our research paper to learn how to plan for and respond to emergencies in such a way that leaves your student health information in tact and accessible.