Snow days, schmoe days - Why the time for virtual classrooms is now

Snow days, schmoe days - Why the time for virtual classrooms is now

Summary: What student or teacher doesn't like a good snow day once in a while? However, when students are only seeing their teachers once or twice a week, the lack of continuity can wreak havoc on outcomes.

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I'm so sick of snow. I know, I know, I live in New England, my choice, suck it up, etc. But this winter, I must say, I'm over it. A few feet on the ground, with more on the way Saturday, Monday, and Thursday. That's right, three more storms in the next week. Most districts in our state had two days off last week, a day or two the week before, and at least one more is expected this coming week. All this adds up to long days in hot classrooms in June with little extra learning going on.

There is a solution, though. The technology to make virtual classrooms work really well is here. Several platforms already exist to connect students with their teachers and each other in such a way, while physical classrooms are useful in the long term and for younger children, for most secondary students a virtual environment will not only allow them to continue working when weather emergencies (or flu pandemics, for that matter) mean that a physical classroom isn't an option, but can enhance their learning on a daily basis.

Students and teachers can use everything from Google Apps with it's voice and video chat and document collaboration (including synchronous presentation tools that allow teachers to lead slide decks and students to ask questions and chat during the presentation) to Skype to connect when school isn't in session. Even when it is in session, engaging students through virtual classroom technologies (as simple as a Twitter discussion with a basic hash tag or as sophisticated as Adobe Connect Pro) can lead to a variety of interactions that might not otherwise happen in an ordinary classroom.

Many school districts went through several "what-if" scenarios during the H1N1 outbreak two years ago and outlined a variety of tech solutions to continue teaching despite potential school closures. When far fewer schools closed than most people expected, too many schools set these scenarios aside. The Teaching with Technology Wikispace features great suggestions on ways to deal with extended school closures.

The list is quite simple and most of the solutions are freely available (or have free alternatives), so why doesn't every school have at least elements of these solutions in place? Simply combining Moodle with Google Apps is free and easy and gives students and teachers a robust communication and collaboration platform. WizIQ is free for individual teachers and makes creating an actual virtual classroom a snap. Training needs for both of these possible solutions are fairly minimal.

Snow days are all well and good. What student or teacher doesn't like a good snow day once in a while? However, when students are only seeing their teachers once or twice a week, the lack of continuity can wreak havoc on outcomes. It's time for the virtual classroom (however that might look for any given teacher or school) to be ubiquitous. There's no need for every snow day to mean 2 steps back in the classroom anymore.

Topics: Hardware, Virtualization

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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25 comments
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  • RE: Snow days, schmoe days - Why the time for virtual classrooms is now

    That's great until the snow/ice knocks down the phone lines, and the DSL connected kids lose their connection.
    mizeeyore59
    • RE: Snow days, schmoe days - Why the time for virtual classrooms is now

      @mizeeyore59 <br><br>Correct ! and more than likely power will be out before the phone lines even cable for that matter. <br><br>But what about the kids (like my 10yr old) who have no cable service and are out of the reach of dsl ? what is the solution for those kids. They get behind because because they are not lucky enough to get broadband

      Also the $$$ for the tech to get this running in the schools is not feasible in the current times.

      Sorry Chris is idea is all well and good but with the US poorly available broadband this is only a pipe dream
      MLHACK
      • RE: Snow days, schmoe days - Why the time for virtual classrooms is now

        @MLHACK
        In Australia, we have been going through this debate for the past couple of years. The current Labor Government is building a $43bn National Broadband Network based on fibre-optic cable. However, the Liberal/National opposition wants instead to build a wireless network. Either network would cover something like 98% of Australia. Far North Queensland just experienced the worst cyclone know in our history. That cyclone took-out all of the NBN infrastructure because the fibre-optic cable was strung between telegraph poles; however, the wireless telephones networks mostly continued to operate. There are, of course, other debates, like the problems of building a fixed-line network in a mobile world. But, it doesn't matter because we're in the process of getting a fixed-line NBN whether or not it is the best option
        Wakemewhentrollsgone
  • Ha! Good one!

    Unless a parent is literally standing in the room, making sure the student is paying attention, students will have chatroulette, fb, video games, a browser with 112 tabs open, and be streaming music during their "virtual classroom". You might be able to get away with this in college, but most high school students require adult supervision to learn. Even then it's a challenge.
    crazydanr@...
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      drumandyou
  • Is anybody doing this?

    Even countries swimming in tech and high speed internet, like Japan? No, nobody really, outside online college degrees. Why? Kids need to learn the discipline of going to school to get an education that will lead them to learning the discipline for showing up to work every day to get a job. Yeah I know, boring jobs that make business and industry flow, not creative fantasy land "work from home" jobs. If the kids are home virtual learning, assuming they are not just playing games, that also means a parent HAS to be home. That means kiss your two income family goodbye and god forbid it's a one parent home. Did you know some states even have laws saying a child cannot be left home alone until a specified age? Are the schools going to take legal "virtual" responsibility for these kids? Heck no.
    oncall
  • Well... in theory, sure, it works

    I have taught in higher education for 11 years, and online classes for 6, and I am a Director of IT. In theory you would think this is a great idea. 5 years ago I thought that it would be commonplace by now, but there are several things that just don't bode well for this idea... yet:

    1. Broadband isn't ubiquitous, even in higher ed. Go down to K-12 and it's bad.
    2. Teachers in higher ed for the most part struggle with simple technology stuff. Throw in some online classroom software and they freak out.
    3. Students aren't tech savvy enough. They can Facebook, download music to their iPods, and email. Ask them to configure their USB headset and troubleshoot mic problems and you get blank stares.

    I could go on, but the bottom line is that until it is simple enough that the average person can understand it and use it without issue, it won't happen. We aren't there yet.
    steveholt68
    • RE: Snow days, schmoe days - Why the time for virtual classrooms is now

      @steveholt68
      Good points. Journal authors throw-around words like "digital natives" that imply all young people are capable with technology. The reality could not be more different!
      Wakemewhentrollsgone
      • RE: Snow days, schmoe days - Why the time for virtual classrooms is now

        @ptorning You are right.. the reality is much different. I have been shocked at the deterioration of technology skills of my students over the past 11 years of my teaching (in Computer Science and Economics). And don't even get me started on their poor spelling and grammar. Many of them can't even figure out how to double-space, much less configure their webcam or microphone.
        steveholt68
      • RE: Snow days, schmoe days - Why the time for virtual classrooms is now

        @steveholt68

        Steve, I find that IMPOSSIBLE to believe, judging from the fact that I volunteer at schools and have seen children actually doing their work..... they are not anymore 'poor spellers' than people were back when I was in school.

        Grammar? There is such a thing as being a 'grammar fag' who is too caught up on that.
        Lerianis10
      • RE: Snow days, schmoe days - Why the time for virtual classrooms is now

        @Lerianis10 Well, it's true. Spelling and grammar have to gotten worse with today's students and technology skills that they have are getting more and more specific to only the things they are interested in like music, texting, and Facebook. General IT skills that would be expected in a workplace are going to be missing in a large part of these kids. I honestly didn't think that would happen, but it has. I thought that after 10 years the introductory Computer Science classes that I teach wouldn't be necessary anymore because kids coming from K-12 would already have their basic IT skills in place, but boy, was I wrong.
        steveholt68
  • RE: Snow days, schmoe days - Why the time for virtual classrooms is now

    What drugs are you on? They must be good, cause you idea makes no sense at all. There are a few good reasons that virtual classrooms aren?t a good idea.
    1) Children need to interact, with other children, something that the virtual classroom does not provide. The load that using video streaming over broadband would put the current infrastructure, would cause problems for everyone. how would the children participate in gym class in you delusional world?

    2) This would cause hardships for parents. Children should not be left home alone, so one parent would have to be present at all times. If both parents can?t work, how are they to pay for the broadband internet and the required hardware for the child? Leaving a young child at home alone is considered neglect, which could lead the parent to give up their job, especially in a situation where there is only a single parent. Who?s going to pay for that? It?a bad enough that the overpaid lazy teachers do a poor job as it is. Now you want to reward them by paying them to stay home?

    3) When I was in school we were expected to show up every day, not like today where an inch of snow is enough to cancel school. Are teachers becoming wimps, or are they just getting even lazier these days? I have personally noticed that children today have more days off of school than when I was in school. What are these children going to do when they hit the workforce? When they are expected to go to work for more than 180 days a year?
    Rick_K
    • RE: Snow days, schmoe days - Why the time for virtual classrooms is now

      @Rick_K
      Right on. Very well said. The fundamental thing Chris missed is, by going to school, kids develop discipline of getting up early and going to school. After they come back they spend time on Homework at least. Now without school, they miss the fundamental thing, DISCIPLINE.
      Ram U
      • RE: Snow days, schmoe days - Why the time for virtual classrooms is now

        @Rama.NET Well it?s nice to see we can agree on something. But seriously, what message is it sending the children? Stay at home and not take responsibility? School should reflect the real world, not some fantasy made up be lazy teachers.
        Rick_K
    • RE: Snow days, schmoe days - Why the time for virtual classrooms is now

      @Rick_K
      You have excellent reasons why kids need to go to a brick building every day along with other students the best being structure and discipline but I do have some counterpoints for your views.
      ``Children need to interact, with other children, something that the virtual classroom does not provide.``
      The students also don`t get distractions from all the other students. Whether it be spitball shooting or just being to shy to ask for help. At home you are safe from influence such as tobacco use, alcohol, drugs, gangs and bullies.
      Students can participate in extracurricular activities after school work is finished at home just as in the local high school.
      ``The load that using video streaming over broadband would put the current infrastructure, would cause problems for everyone.``
      Has this really been proven? I would like to read some sources of this.
      ``how would the children participate in gym class in you delusional world?``
      Again, extracurricular activities like sports and household chores would be an excellent alternative to gym class or Physical Education.

      Your point on leaving young children at home is bang on. I would like to add to this by saying that my child should go through elementary school in a traditional classroom but once they reach high school they would be given the option to try an alternative method of distance education. Once a person reaches the age of sixteen I personally believe they are capable of earning the responsibility of taking courses at home alone and learning how to budget their time.

      I took grade 11 and 12 courses at home through Catholic Cyber School. The cost of each Semester for each course was 250 dollars. While not cheap, I was able to work more in my spare time and could afford this. I found working from home was much more work than in a traditional school but without all of the distractions, I managed to get grades in the high 80`s whereas in traditional school I was scraping by on a D-.
      Level-headed
  • Personally, I believe this is how ALL education should be

    Taught by computer at the students home. There is really no reason in the computer age why for anything but say.... physical education and maybe science classes where you are going to have to use chemicals on occasion, that they cannot do these classes from home.

    Personally, I SUCKED at the in person education at my college because of my extreme phobia of even small crowds, but I excelled at distance learning.
    Lerianis10
    • RE: Snow days, schmoe days - Why the time for virtual classrooms is now

      @Lerianis10
      But how small is the population that has that problem? I'd assume very small.
      djrraz@...
  • huh?

    @steveholt68<br> "Spelling and grammar have to gotten worse"<br><br>They sure have! I think you said you were a teacher? Do you count off for grammar? If so, you get a -1 for word usage.
    Freddy McGriff
    • RE: Snow days, schmoe days - Why the time for virtual classrooms is now

      @Freddy McGriff Ouch Freddy. Yeah, that's what I get for typing too fast. And just because I am human and make mistakes, that doesn't discount my point. Yes, I do take off for spelling and grammar mistakes because when something is wrong, it's wrong... even if you are typing too fast.
      steveholt68