Monday, April 4, 2011
If your school had to close for a while, could you continue to teach?
In August, 1665, Cambridge University closed due to the threat of the Great Plague. The students left and one particular undistinguished student continued his studies on his own on his family’s farm. The story is that while there, he saw an apple fall from a tree, had the insight that the force that pulled the apple to the earth was the same force that caused the motion of the moon around the earth. He eventually expressed his insight as the Universal Law of Gravitation. His name, of course, was Isaac Newton.
Schools closed in Hong Kong for SARS, closed in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia in 2004 under thread of terrorist attacks, closed in Mexico and in some parts of the U.S. due to swine flu. Extended school closures for disease, terrorist attacks, war, floods and other calamities are nothing new. But what is new is that today, teaching and learning can continue online, even if none of the students or faculty set foot in the school building and even if they’ve dispersed into the countryside or around the world. Teaching can continue online.
As with other online courses, the first step is to establish communication. Make sure the students and parents can access class information on the website and can take part in online discussions. During a time of crisis, the online discussions may prove to be one of the most valuable parts of the services the school provides. People will need emotional support. Parents and students are not only going to need to contact the school but to contact one another for personal comfort and reassurance.
Another benefit of continuing online instruction during a time of crisis is to establish a sense of normalcy. Students will be calmed and reassured that despite the emergency, life goes on.
Not only should lessons appear on the website but a special effort should be made to feature students work. When students see their own work or the work of their classmates displayed on the website it will reinforce the idea that everyone is getting back to work despite the unusual circumstances.
There are two most likely impediments to transition to virtual classrooms during a time of crisis.
- The first is that student and parent email addresses may not have been collected and be ready to use. A lot more online communication will be necessary when switching to a virtual school during time of crisis. Be ready.
- The second likely impediment to transition to virtual classrooms is that many teachers may not have adopted the use of web technology in their classrooms. Typically a few teachers adopt web technology enthusiastically, more log on once or twice never to return and many never use the web technology at all. If they’ve taught all these years without it, why should they learn it now?
Training on the new technology under crisis conditions is likely to be problematic. Therefore, one of the best ways to prepare for switching to virtual classrooms in an emergency is to ensure that all teachers become comfortable with the use of web-based technologies in their everyday classroom teaching.
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