Continuity of Learning

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) has identified some solutions for schools to provide continuity of learning during probable H1N1, pandemic and natural disasters causing school closures.

Virtual schools, online learning and distance learning have provided education to students at any location for more than 20 years. Using examples and models from virtual schooling and distance education can provide a short-term solution and a long-term framework for options related to the continuity of learning for H1N1 school closures. Most virtual schools work with school districts and state education agencies to meet the learning needs of schools and students in their states across the K-12 grade level continuum. Other online resources, curriculum, supplemental services and technology providers work with virtual schools and districts in a number of ways that might be able to bolster partnerships for creative solutions.

Online learning and continuity of learning is more than just providing curriculum in an online format. It involves the planning, training, and management of delivery of instruction over a new technologically-enabled delivery model.  This involves three key areas: curriculum materials, people, and technology.

Curriculum/Materials:

  • Is the school/district going to develop their own curriculum/courses or will they license/purchase courses, or a combination of both?
  • How is curriculum created or selected, organized?
  • Is the curriculum aligned to state academic content standards?
  • Where is it housed?
  • How is it delivered, managed, and updated?
  • How is the instruction and assessment provided?
  • What is the scope and sequence?
  • Do teachers have a complete syllabus, lesson plans, and resources tied together?

The iNACOL National Standards of Quality for Online Courses can be used as a resource for designing and delivering content.

People:

  • What are the roles of each administrator and teacher during a school closing?
  • What training will be offered for administrators and teachers?
  • Who will provide this training?

Virtual schools are complete solutions offering online teachers, online curriculum, and the technologies to support the learning experience in a remote environment.

  • Students: online learning environments are possible for elementary, middle, and high school students but the instructional design, course design, and student support strategies differ for each age group.
  • Parents and Guardians: Parents and guardians of students would also need training on how to assist their students in accessing content and updates from teachers and administrators in the schools.
  • Educational television stations – there is much studio work and delivery model infrastructure required to deliver courses over television, cable, or satellite. Moving toward broadcast television model is not scalable, although television is a widespread medium, it isn’t interactive and requires synchronous meetings and is only one-way. Broadcast television could work to provide announcements to students, but schools will still need all of the supports of an e-learning environment loaded on top of the television broadcast delivery models.

Technology:

  • Do you need to have an ASP (Application Service Provider) solution or do you have the in-house staff to support the server to run a Learning Management System locally?
  • How do your curriculum development decisions impact this issue?
  • Do all teachers and administrators, as well as students and parents, have access to hardware at home in order for teachers to teach from home and for students to learn from home?

Schools and districts should plan to have an inventory of home access for computers and Internet connections, and work to provide access to students without access, in case of continuity of learning through e-learning.

  • In addition to a LMS, does the school/district have access to web-conferencing (synchronous) tools to provide live contact with students?
  • Many companies such as Nortel and Cisco have training programs that do extend online courses to “any screen”, including cell phones.
  • Cell phone access and capabilities are another level of telecommunications – for use of phone conferencing and some academic applications and online resources, but most fully online courses and materials are not designed with cell phone interfaces.

Introduction to strategies:

  • Districts could use technologies to deliver instruction (phone calls, web conferencing, and learning management system) to connect students to teachers and continue delivering lessons. Online learning and learning management systems taking advantage of synchronous and asynchronous platforms are crucial to robust interactivity, exchanging materials, and turning in assignments online.
  • Virtual schools are an option for continuity of learning during school closures. Use part-time state and district virtual schools and full-time virtual schools to provide courses, materials, and assistance during closures. Virtual schools are ready and willing to open doors in times of crisis. There are questions of open enrollment policies, funding flow, switching back and forth with different instructors, different course materials, pacing charts, etc. 
  • People need to be trained and aware of the options that exist using technology within the district and for additional options available through existing virtual schooling models. There is a need to train administrators and teachers in districts for implementing short and long-term solutions. Short-term solutions would be basic strategies using phone conferencing, web conferencing, and learning management systems to communicate with students and to post assignments. Long-term strategies would be building capacity for every teacher to have the capacity for teaching online (both blended and virtual learning), such as in Singapore or Hong Kong, to ensure continuity of learning and better learning environments using online learning on a daily basis.

Getting Districts Ready: Short-term district-level solutions and options for implementing

There are three main areas of planning to consider when preparing for a disaster or school closure: preparing people, accessing the technology tools and platforms, and availability of instructional materials.

Technologies:

  • Phone conferencing: training teachers and administrators in what to do; providing conference-calling solutions.
  • Web-conferencing solutions: hold synchronous class meetings with teachers; train teachers in web meeting software; providing web-conferencing technology solutions.
  • Learning Management System solutions: host asynchronous and synchronous class meetings with teachers and students; students can stay on track through syllabus, complete assignments, interact and have discussions with teachers, live chats with other students, view their grades and assignments.

People:

  • Teachers – train teachers in use of the distance learning tools for short-term and long-term solutions.
  • Provide tutors through online tutoring.
  • Provide training to parents and students on how to access these tools from home in the case of a school closure. This can be done as part of the school day in a blended environment to ensure a smooth transition in the case of an emergency.

Materials:

  • What instructional materials are available?  If only hard copies of textbooks, then plan accordingly. If syllabus, materials and full online courses are available over the Internet, there are more in-depth approaches to continuity of learning and interaction available.
  • Incentivize investments in open educational resources (digital, sharable, re-usable, adaptable, creative commons licensing) that would be useful in distance and blended, online learning.
  • Invest in digital content and instructional materials that could be delivered at a distance and used in online learning.

Example of a School Closure Scenario from Singapore:

Since the SARS outbreak in 2005, Singapore began a systemic approach to preparing for continuity of learning and disaster planning. Singapore’s bigger strategy is to include e-learning as a key strategy for learning continuity. Singapore’s long-term e-learning plan is to train every teacher to teach online, to provide online learning in 100% of secondary schools, which means that all instructional materials are provided digitally and online, and every teacher and secondary school uses a learning management system to deliver course materials and track student progress. Singapore holds e-learning week once a year: e-learning is a process model for continuity of learning, with e-learning week once a year, it is “non-alarmist”, sets up e-learning processes and models in school using e-learning and blended learning models. Singapore schools still hold classes face-to-face throughout the year, but use e-learning processes and tools so that they are prepared in the case of a pandemic and are ready and prepared to shut schools down if they need to, with e-learning as the continuity of learning model. This promotes the use of technology and e-learning for teaching and learning every day. Staff members at schools know what to do and how to use the technology and students know what is expected of them.

This excerpt is from a news article in the Singapore Enquirer on June 29, 2009 and provides an interesting snapshot of how Singapore’s public officials handled a last-minute school closure due to a H1N1 outbreak days before school started:

“Two secondary schools have decided to close for a week after their teachers tested positive for the Influenza A (H1N1) virus on Saturday. . . [The] schools have asked their students to stay away and do home-based learning for this period. The two schools’ closure comes on a day that the country clocked its largest number of new H1N1 cases in a day. A fresh 145 were confirmed yesterday, with another 77 cases pending confirmation…The Ministry of Education said in a statement last night that all students from [the schools] will be provided with home-based learning lessons this week. Staff who were not in close contact with the infected teachers will return to the schools to help coordinate the operations for home-learning…The schools will deliver materials for home-based learning to their students and monitor their progress via phone, e-mail and the schools’ learning management systems. Parents will also be informed of activities and study schedules.”

While models exist in Singapore already with the use of e-learning as central to the pandemic flu response plan where social distancing of either teachers or students are required. Singapore’s response plan enables an individual school or a large portion of schools to be able to shift to online learning. They practice the e-learning drill quarterly, and the entire country shifts to e-learning for a week every quarter to ensure emergency preparedness across the country. In contrast, in the United States this capability is nascent at best.

GREEN YELLOW ORANGE –

Schools/Campuses may close in this phase

RED –

School/Campus Closures

  • Lessons and exams as normal
  • Leave of Absence (LOA) Students to access materials from e-learning system (LMS)
  • Isolate leave of absence (LOA) students for exams
  • Lectures, tutorials, and laboratory sessions continue as normal
  • Home Quarantine Order (HQO) students to access materials from e-learning system
  • Isolate sick students for exams
  • Stop mass lectures and activities; replace by e-learning, if possible
  • Tutorial via online tutors
  • Laboratory sessions as normal, if possible; via online labs, if possible
  • HQO students to access materials from e-learning system
  • E-learning only via remote access for students from various locations, including homes
  • Hold exams on e-learning systems, if possible; otherwise postpone exams

Adapted from NTU Business Continuity Plan: Singapore (2006)

This is an example of last minute school closures due to the avian flu pandemic. Providing schools with short-term and long-term strategies and solutions is critical.