The Polar Vortex Has Created a Unique E-Learning Opportunity

With the polar vortex hitting Central Illinois tomorrow, many schools have wisely closed for the day.  In some cases, some schools have actually preemptively closed for several days.

Incidentally, a new Illinois law now allows for “snow days” to be counted as actual “school days” as long as e-learning occurs.  This is an incredibly exciting opportunity for both educators and families.

It’s thrilling for several reasons.  The most universal and obvious reason is because it solidifies the school calendar.  If “make-up days” are now taken out of the equation, families can count on their kids getting out for the summer on a certain date, which will allow for summer plans to commence even sooner.  Of course, while that’s probably the sole reason we can all agree on, it’s not all that beneficial in terms of education.

Another reason that I’m fired up for this is because it keeps learning consistent.  Look, we all understand that students are not going to engage at home like they do in the classroom, and we recognize that teachers are not going to give work to do at home that requires their immediate presence in order to provide explanation, but as long as some kind of learning occurs, that’s a good thing.  My biggest gripe about summer vacation is that so much learning is lost.  Students come back from summer and take weeks to get back into the groove of things and remember what they learned from the previous year.  It doesn’t sound like it should happen, but trust me–it does.  On a much smaller scale, the same thing happens with “snow days.”  So much of education is routine and structure.  By asking students to initiate their education while at home, it keeps them focused, on task, and exercising their minds.

Furthermore, many schools, including my workplace, are now one-to-one.  This means that students in junior high and high school are provided a laptop.  Our district even provides internet services to families who can’t afford it.  We’ve been a one-to-one school for several years now.  I’m exhilarated by the fact that we are moving forward with our technology and encouraging students to use their laptops for explicit educational purposes at home.  Laptops mean that we no longer have to lose out on a day due to inclement weather.

I must admit, though, that I’m being a little selfish.  When our school initiated one-to-one, I created a website for each class that I teach which updates daily.  I particularly did this so that homebound students or students absent due to illness, field trips, college visits, etc., could keep up with us on a day-to-day basis.  Every audio we listen to has a link, every video we watch has a link, every activity sheet we do has a download, every website we visit has a link.  And my class site continues to evolve.  I now take advantage of the District’s educational resources such as BrainPop! and Microsoft Forms to provide even more learning opportunities.  Does it take a ton of work to update three different class websites on a daily basis?  You bet it does.  But it provides the chance for absent students to keep up and learn along with the present students, which is the whole point.  My practice is tailor made for “e-learning days,” and I’m selfishly happy that my efforts are proving fruitful.

This “alternate learning” will take time to perfect, though.  For example, the elementary teachers do not have the benefit of students with laptops.  They cannot contact their students directly via the internet.  They will have to work through their students’ parents or guardians, which complicates matters for everyone, to be sure.  As is often the case, they will have greater demands to meet.

Taking attendance is also an imperfect enterprise at this point.  I won’t go into our district’s plan, but it relies heavily on the “honor code.”  I wish I could tell you that 100% of our students, students’ families, and even educators are honor-bound, but we all know that’s not true.  It’s hard for anything to be 100%.

I also understand that it could prove burdensome for families in terms of childcare.  With this option now legally viable, more and more districts are going to utilize it.  This could result in families having to figure out childcare more often.  I recognize that for some, this is a serious issue and not one to be taken lightly.

Consequently, I’ve heard some educators say that this begins the end of our profession as we know it.  To that I say … maybe?

On the one hand, I don’t believe that “brick and mortar” schools will ever disappear.  As stated above, we provide an invaluable service.  Look, I’m a career educator.  I take this field very seriously.  I take education and learning very seriously.  I have two college degrees.  But, if I’m being perfectly honest, if nothing else, we provide a safe, structured, stable environment where people can send their children while they go to work.  People need “brick and mortar” schools so they have somewhere to send their kids during their shift.  I’m loathe to admit that, but it’s true.  Heck, I praised God the day both of my kids were out of daycare and at the local public school because it freed up a LOT of money that could go elsewhere.

Will our profession change as a result of e-learning at home?  Yes, it probably will.  While common sense dictates smaller classes are better, and while no one should argue against the benefit of an actual, present human being teaching impressionable youth, e-learning could result in larger classrooms with fewer teachers.  Research leads us to believe this would be detrimental to kids, but it’s a likely scenario.

Truthfully, though, I’m a big believer in necessity driving innovation.  We often don’t come up with new ideas unless we have to.  While our district’s educators didn’t get much notice that this would be enacted, and that rightfully proved stressful for some, I personally would much prefer that we dive into the deep end rather than endlessly discuss it for years and years.  Oftentimes, when lives and livelihoods are not at stake, the best way to start something is to simply do it and figure it out as you go.

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 (Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

 

 

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