Preparing for the worst = opportunity

There is more than one way to get a school to start looking at online learning as a way to reach students. As an international educator, I have found no greater motivation to get the conversation started around online learning than planning for the worst…..school closure.

In 2003 it was the attacks on the compound in Riyadh that led my school to think about how we were to educate students if we were to shut our doors. The following year we implemented Moodle and started training teachers.

In 2005 we moved to Shanghai, China and within weeks of getting my feet on the ground I found myself in a meeting talking about how could we sustain learning if SARS was to return to Asia. Luckily SAS did not have to shut their doors during SARS but other schools had to and they were now looking for ways to sustain learning if the worst was to occur. Two months later we install and start using Moodle, we got a couple teacher on board and we started to build a wave of technology users. In my eyes that was the true start to online learning systems at SAS. Of course now they have a whole e-learning portal system and are going 1:1.

A couple days ago I get an e-mail from the leadership team here at ISB who are starting to have conversations around H1N1 and what systems do we have in place that would allow us to carry on the learning process. There have been international schools that have already had short term closures throughout Asia do to H1N1 and just last week we saw our first confirmed case at school.

These are not the best ways to bring attention to e-learning systems, but honestly I’ll take what I can get! 🙂

Here’s the problem with all three of the above stories. Online learning is not something you can “switch on” and do well. There is so much training to be done on both the teachers end and the students end that switching it on is the least of your worries.

Why every classroom should be a blended classroom:

Of course I could go into the learning theory on why I believe every classroom today, especially in the middle school and high school where students are more tech savvy should be a blended model of both classroom learning and online learning…but you can read the rest of this blog for that. 😉

Let’s just look at it from a ‘preparing for the worst’ perspective. If your school or class is already use to using a blended model for learning, moving to a full time model either way is a much shorter jump than moving all the way without having a system in place. Both teachers and students understand how the system works, where to go, what to do. If online learning is just part of their daily routine in school, than we do not need to worry….we just continue on the journey of learning.

In all three stories above I’ve helped my schools start with Moodle:

  1. It’s cost is minimal (free, you just need a server).
  2. Setting up and getting classes going is easy.
  3. It’s secure (walled garden) which both teachers and administrators like and feel comfortable with.
  4. It can do everything you need in one nice package (Not everything….but everything you need)

All three of these schools are in a much better place today to deal with a school closure. Here at ISB most teachers in the middle school and high school have moved to some form of blended learning. Whether it be blogs, Moodle, Elgg, or Google Apps. What H1N1 will do is force the rest of the teachers to move there so we are prepared for the worst…not a bad thing!

The elementary school is always a bit harder, as students rely on more guidance when it comes to learning. Our teachers continue to adopt blogs as a communication device with parents and turning that into an educational learning communication to parents if they were at home with their students is not a far leap. Uploading worksheets, having discussions, and even giving advice to parents on how and what they should spend their time doing is a simple switch on the teachers part. The parents are already trained to look at the blogs for class information, teachers are getting better at understanding the software and uploading documentation, an open communication learning platform already in place.

We talk about needing a Sputnik type reason to change education. Internationally I’ve found mine! It might not be the best way to shift a school or teachers thinking around using online tools. But I’ll take it! In the case of SAS that simple step of installing Moodle lead to a shift in thinking, school culture, and their belief on what a blended classroom can do for both teaching and learning. It allowed new conversations, new ideas, and a new outlook on what was possible. So, as much as I hate to fear H1N1 I also see it as an opportunity to start new conversations and new ways of thinking about education.