Our AP teachers, as well as teachers of core courses related to our state testing, are scrambling right now to find ways for students to stay caught up in the face of 6 days of missed school due to the ice storm that hit a good chunk of New England. Unfortunately, we're now headed into the winter holiday, with no chance for the teachers to at least regroup a bit with their students. While many teachers use blogs and email to stay in touch with students, this isn't yet a practice that happens regularly or on much more than a casual basis.
For many people in a business setting, it's completely natural to check in via email, VPN, or some other means. Kids are more than happy to check in with each other via MySpace or FaceBook. Some districts have built a culture around their student information systems, many of which incorporate student and teacher spaces, as well. However, the latter tend to be the exception, rather than the rule.
Here again, is the place for social media in schools. It takes time to make it natural and culturally acceptable for students and teachers to interact online in the way that adults do for business/social ventures or the way that kids do every day. However, the ease with which content can be posted, messages relayed, and discussions created in a Ning-style social network can really lend itself to keeping students and teachers connected.
Obviously, not every teacher will embrace this; yet if my AP Biology teacher could post readings and questions, students were inclined to check in regularly, and students were trained to post questions, thoughts, discussions, and answers, work could go on with some normalcy, regardless of disruptions.
Obviously, we can't replace classroom instruction. However, what better supplement is there than all of the wonderful social networking tools we have? Even Twitter makes it very easy to pose a question or suggest a reading, making class discussions accessible to students without computers (cell phones have become fairly ubiquitous). Ongoing discussion threads are easy to sort out in Twitter as well with # terms.
No school does not need to mean no learning; even on a normal night, we should be actively encouraging students to make use of the tools they have to continue collaborating with each other and with their instructors.