Learning, Education and Snow Days

There has, as you can imagine, been lots of talk about snow days here in the Commonwealth. Jon Becker mused about how odd it seemed to have a university close despite widespread connectivity. He asked a powerful question: “Are we not supposed to work?” The comments provided examples of both K-12 and higher education organizations that managed to continue work and learning despite not being able to physically meet. My own comment was bit tongue in cheek: I teach online for two universities that were both officially closed. Our learning went on as usual. If my students, most of whom were themselves out on snow days, chose not to work on the days the schools were closed, that is up to them.  I suspect, however, most of them used the time to get caught up.

National Public Radio revisited a report from 2015 on students in Delphi, Indiana, who were expected to log in from home on snow days. Teachers had prepared ahead, creating digital versions of lessons and engaging with students. The article described some of the issues around e-learning that will resonate with anyone who has taught online: some content is harder to teach online, not all students have access, and tech support can be difficult. I was most interested in the “diminishing returns” described by the superintendent:

But he admits there is a point of diminishing returns, which he noticed during a recent string of snow days.

“You know, the first day we had about 100 percent of the kids involved in e-learning,” Walker says. “Well, then, after the fourth day, we were down to about 55 percent of the children.”

On the fifth snow day, Walker gave kids and teachers a free pass: No e-learning today.

I wonder why there was a fall off in participation? The novelty wore off? The sense of community was reduced? Or, did students have a sense that the work didn’t count? The edict that there would be “no e-learning today” reminded me of Jon’s tweet: an educator is banning learning? What if they wanted to continue?

K-12 educators  seem torn about snow days and formal learning. In a tweet chat last evening, the topic, not surprisingly, was snow day learning. Some teachers felt like these days should be breaks for the kids: have fun in the snow, hang out with family, and just take a break from the rigors of school. Others indicated they had communicated with their students and parents, sharing ideas for how to keep the learning going despite being out of school, whether it was encouraging elementary kids to read or high school kids to apply their physics learning to snow.

As with the students and teachers in Indiana, there were some constraints. Not all students had Internet access and even for those who did, accessing the school ecosystem could be difficult on a non-school device. Some questioned the use of non-school communication systems like Twitter as being against the AUP.  And, ultimately, making kids and teachers work on a day off still didn’t make the day “count” towards state attendance requirements so there was a sense that it was all just optional.

That last problem underscores the disconnect between bureaucracy and technology as the latter moves much more quickly than the former. Ultimately, if snow day learning is going to catch on in K-12 at least, bureaucracy is going to need to catch up.

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