Int. Education

Preparing for the worst = opportunity

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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… 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.

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


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  7. I agree that we take what we can to move fence sitters along in the use of elearning strategies. Many teachers have already figured out how effective Moodle can be for training day and sick day absences, but preparing for H1N1 could be what moves us along.

    Hopefully, these Moodles will not be merely f2f teaching forced into a learning managment system.

  8. Pretty close to the conversations teachers involved with our Eportal system were having today.

    Suddenly with a few grade levels sitting at home due to H1N1 there has been a lot more student/teacher traffic directed to our Moodle install. Ironically, H1N1 gives us fewer classes this week and we have more time to help those who need it.

  9. We haven’t had to close because of sickness yet, but here in Quebec, we often have to deal with “snow days”, when weather makes it impossible to come to school. We conduct most of our secondary classes “online” even though the students are often sitting in front of us, so that in emergencies, life goes on as normal. Microsoft Office has a great tool called “Groove” which allows both individual and shared workspaces. Dimdim is our virtual classroom allowing sharing of both desktop and websites, and Skype is used for live discussions. Microsoft Office also allows me to place students daily assignments directly into their calendar, with reminders of what is due and when. Blogs, Twitter, even Facebook are used daily…the list goes on.

  10. Great post Jeff!

    We are using SchoolWorld (Elem) and Edu2.0 (MSHS) for now. Preparing for H1N1 closure has been like learning to swim by being thrown in an ocean for some of our staff, but it’s coming along. You’re right, we are having some great conversations. This will be a year of huge growth.

  11. R.J. Rongcal Reply

    Hey Jeff!!

    H1N1 has been an issue here in Kuwait, the fear of it anyway. They’ve postponed the start of CDC and KG1 until the very end of November! And KG2 will start after the first Eid. It just made me think of that as I was reading this blog. Also, I like that idea of using a blog of sorts to communicate with parents and family. It would beat having to send paper notes home with kids, trusting their word that they show it to there mom or dad. I’m liking your sites!


  12. Hi Jeff,

    We started the same discussion a few weeks back. We don’t have Moodle installed here but we do have a reasonably well developed blended learning environment using Sharepoint. Teachers are beginning to see the benefits of blogs and wikis so this pressure brought on by H1N1 might be the thing that tips the balance. Maybe it might be the thing that pushes us to a truly authentic blended environment.

  13. Very similar story here in Taiwan. We’ve had Moodle for some time though until the H1N1 situation, most teachers did not use it. Now, after a couple of workshops most teachers are familiar with the basics. The need to prepare for a closure has brought with it this positive side-effect.

  14. Hi Jeff-

    Your points are the same ones we came to after running our “Virtual School” back in 2003 in Hong Kong with the outbreak of SARS. I wrote a post about it at U Tech Tips and my blog that includes a link to an article about our experiences. We ran a full online learning environment with our grade 3 to 5 students so it is doable. The blended approach is what we started upon our return to “real” school in 2003 with the first step being the adoption of Moodle. Our students quickly picked up using it especially during our annual “Virtual School” practice week which carried over for many teachers into their regular classroom practices.

  15. Jeff, what were some of the strategies your school used getting parents in the habit of checking class blogs. I’m also thinking that most, if not all, of your families have internet access at home. Any thoughts on how to handle this is families don’t have internet?

  16. Great post Jeff, and one that i have dealt with in the last week. I agree with you 100% when you say,

    “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.”

    But my experience has taught me with a little hard work, flexibly, and risk taking you can start creating an online community from scratch if you have to.

    The school where I work did close for one week here are my thought son the experience:

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