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Tech keeps learning alive, despite closings

Though schools in a handful of states have closed temporarily to curtail the spread of swine flu, that hasn’t interrupted the learning process for many students–thanks to technologies such as video conferencing, classroom web pages, and more.

For instance, the New Braunfels Independent School District in Texas has closed its doors as a result of the H1N1 virus, but classes are still in session.

New Braunfels officials quickly searched for an online tool that would let students keep learning, and they chose SchoolCenter, a K-12 web site management solution. The district will put classroom web pages online so students can stay on track with their school work despite the closure, and SchoolCenter will train nearly 500 teachers and staff via webinars so they are able to add new educational content to their classroom sites.

Online learning tools can be used in several ways for pandemic planning, said Allison Powell, vice president of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL).

Learning management systems and synchronous web conferencing tools, such as WebEx and Elluminate, can help teachers and administrators continue teaching and communicating with students, Powell said. A learning management system will house content, discussions, announcements, and assignments, so that students can see everything associated with a particular class.

Powell said some schools and districts are already using learning management systems as part of a blended-learning process. If those schools were to close, she said, learning could continue with virtually no interruption.

Using synchronous tools, students and teachers log on at specific times throughout the day to hold live discussions, listen to lectures, work in small groups, and do "pretty much anything they could do in a live, face-to-face classroom," Powell said.

If students are unable to attend live online sessions, these sessions could be recorded and archived so students can keep up with their classmates.

Many schools and districts already have some sort of eLearning plans in place, and reverting to those plans would not be difficult if schools were to close as a result of swine flu.

One example is in Singapore, where Powell said secondary schools and junior colleges have adopted "eLearning Week," in which students and teachers stay home from school and complete all of their work online through a learning management system.

The Hong Kong Education Bureau has urged parents to keep their children home from school if the children exhibit flu-like systems, and it has said schools will close if the swine flu spreads and the situation worsens.

In that case, schools would use UniServity, an online learning platform, to communicate flu-related news and to keep students up to date with their school assignments. Teachers will assign tasks to students and will be able to communicate with classes.

This plan first developed after the SARS scare in Asia, and in March 2008 Hong Kong schools closed because of concerns about avian flu. The 16 schools that already were using the UniServity learning platform at that time were able to keep students on track despite the closures.





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