Answering a call from federal officials, Microsoft Corp. and other education technology providers are making resources available to help keep instruction going should swine flu force schools to cancel their face-to-face classes.
Microsoft is aligning its Office Live Workspace, already available free of charge to educators, with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s call for technology companies to help keep home-bound students sick with the H1N1 flu virus connected to school.
The company has dedicated a special section of its web site to Office Live Workspace and H1N1, and the site–to be launched Sept. 16–includes videos and how-to tips to help teachers quickly and easily set up an Office Live classroom page.
Office Live lets teachers set up a class workspace in which they can share content, lesson plans, and curriculum. Students have access to the general classroom workspace, or they can use an individual workspace. Students also can comment and chat with each other on discussion topics, virtual presentations, and other materials. The virtual classroom spaces include file storage.
"These tools are being used by schools to do a lot of this type of work already, so we see this as a natural progression," said Anthony Salcito, Microsoft’s vice president of worldwide education.
Salcito said Microsoft is hoping schools will take advantage of its free resource, which he said can provide for the kind of blended learning environment that might be necessary if an H1N1 outbreak occurs.
Earlier this month, Pearson Education developed a "continuity of learning" plan to help schools continue their students’ education if attendance is disrupted as a result of the H1N1 virus or another crisis.
Scott Drossos, Pearson’s president for school solutions, said Pearson is laying the groundwork to help schools keep learning going uninterrupted.
Pearson’s plan, which the company gave to federal officials, includes a multi-tiered emergency-response system aligned to the severity of a swine flu outbreak, as well as an assessment of how well schools already are using online resources for core curriculum instruction, supplemental activities, and special-needs support.
The plan outlines several courses of action and timelines for current Pearson customers, as well as schools that are not Pearson customers, and includes an option for an immediate emergency situation in which entire school districts might need to close. The different solutions will meet the needs of schools that have a high degree of technology use, minimum technology capability, or no existing technology infrastructure, Pearson said.
Under the plan, school leaders will have access to communication toolkits that offer templates for outreach notices, as well as adaptable statements for local media. Pearson’s national call-center network will help support teachers who are new to teaching with online resources, as well as individuals who are unable to access Pearson’s outreach web site.
The company also plans to make experts in its curriculum development, instruction, technology, assessment, data systems, and professional development departments available to help.
Another company, Scholastic, says it will make a free, downloadable H1N1 prevention sheet available on its web site. Teachers can post the sheets in classrooms, hallways, and bathrooms and can send them home with students. The company also is creating an informational video that shows children demonstrating good flu-prevention techniques, such as washing hands and sneezing into elbows.
"We’re building a site where parents and teachers can download materials by grade level, and the page links to different activities on our site," said Margery Mayer, president of Scholastic Education.
Mayer said all of Scholastic’s H1N1 resources will be supported in both English and Spanish.
Scholastic READ 180 customers will have an in-depth site with 20 days of instructional materials by grade level, which are both downloadable for teachers to print out and send home and available online for parents and students to access.
And if a swine flu outbreak does cause a school interruption, Mayer said, Scholastic will give schools 30 days of free access to its new online program, "Expert Space."
"It’s a really tough challenge for schools. … They’re on the front line of every issue," she said.
Curriki, the largest online community for creating and sharing open-access K-12 curricula, also has developed a "continuity of learning" plan in response to a request from federal officials. Curriki’s plan includes access to a free and open repository of teaching and learning resources built on an open platform that can be customized for individual states or school districts.
Like an iTunes playlist, users of Curriki can create collections of open educational resources, along with repositories of other supplemental content, the site’s creators said. States and school districts can take advantage of customized landing pages designed to provide specific information, news, resources, and links to their education stakeholders. In addition, Curriki’s "group" function allows members of a district, school, or community to stay connected and privately share resources, communicate, post news, and collaborate on projects from any location.
"Curriki has always been committed to sharing our platform and large collection of high-quality curriculum at no cost," said Barbara Kurshan, the site’s executive director. "By working with the Department of Education, we can further provide a solution for states, districts, schools, teachers, and the parents of students who find themselves unable to attend school in the unfortunate event of a flu epidemic."
Duncan recently announced that schools and colleges should prepare to keep learning going with hard-copy packets and online lessons for the potentially large numbers of students who become ill with swine flu and must stay home from school this year. (See "Feds issue more guidance on swine flu." http://www.eschoolnews.com/safe-center/safe-news/index.cfm?i=60331)
The Education Department’s latest guidance provides more details on methods that schools could use, such as distributing recorded classes on podcasts and DVDs; creating take-home packets with up to 12 weeks of printed class material; or holding live classes via video-conferencing calls or webinars.
"As the school year begins, I’m concerned that the H1N1 virus might disrupt learning in some schools across the country," Duncan said.
Added U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, "Everyone’s goal should be to keep children healthy and in school. But if they get sick–and some will–we have to make sure that they don’t fall behind."