If H1N1 Closes Schools, How Can Students Keep Learning?

If H1N1 Closes Schools, How Can Students Keep Learning?

computerIf schools are closed due to a swine flue outbreak, how can students keep learning? SESP professor Kemi Jona says that one Chicago school, VOISE Academy, is demonstrating strategies that can work to keep students on track.

Jona, director of the Office of STEM Education Partnerships, is a member of VOISE Academy's board of directors. This Chicago public school, which emphasizes the combination of an online curriculum and face-to-face instruction, recently conducted a "continuity-of-learning drill" that showed how teachers can engage students in learning even when they're not physically present.

The drill involved 150 sophomores staying home for the day and participating in their classes remotely over the Internet. Students and teachers used such tools as video chats, digital recordings and interactive whiteboards, supported by webcams, cell phone connections and e-mail. Each VOISE student has a laptop for school use and a refurbished desktop for home use.

Jona, who champions the use of digital technologies to enhance learning, was pleased with the outcome of the drill. He said it showed that teachers could engage students even when they were at a distance from school. "We can combine the benefit of a caring classroom teacher with the flexibility to use a digital classroom," he told Edutopia.org in an interview.

The drill was prompted by Jona's conversations with Jim Shelton, assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement at the U.S. Department of Education. Shelton, who advocates the use of digital technologies to engage students, visited VOISE for the learning continuity drill.

Examples of the kinds of activities schools can use to continue learning during a school closure include the following:

  • Classroom discussion and reading aloud using video chat
  • Practice in foreign language through e-mailing digital recordings
  • Sharing assignments and class materials via interactive whiteboards
  • Logging into classroom activities with wireless cell phone connections
  • Pursuing Internet-based distance learning coursework

The Department of Education has issued recommendations regarding continuity of learning in light of the threat of H1N1 outbreaks. At a meeting on August 24, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and other officials provided recommendations for preparing for the impact of H1N1 on learning.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 4/5/10