This Monday, for the first time since the spring semester began, we were able to hold our evening classes which are mostly graduate courses. For the prior two weeks, snow led to the canceling of classes and I was both involved in, and in support of, making those decisions. I know there are institutions that prefer never to close and others that seem to close when the first snowflake hits the ground. Neither approach makes sense to me. For those institutions that chose to almost never close, faculty, staff and students are being placed in danger. The institutions that close at first flake needlessly compromise the teaching time and weaken the educational benefit that we all strive to maximize for our students.
Finding a perfect middle ground is an inexact science. But at least those of us in the middle are striving to find the right balance – subject to Mother Nature – between safety and the educational process. But what happens when a considerable amount of class time is lost? How do you make up that time? The tried and true mechanisms still seem to prevail. Can we extend class time? Can we make use of snow/study/reading days? Can we make use of conversion days? Most likely we tend to do a little of each.
It is time to change our response and more faculty and institutions are doing so. Almost all of us have learning platforms available to us. We may use these platforms in a very limited way or in more major ways. But when bad weather happens, a major tool in responding and maintaining the learning experience is use of online education tools which can allow you to substitute online learning for in person learning. The pace of the course, the material covered, and learning process can all continue undiminished. Making use of these tools works well both if you are an advocate for online learning or a major critic. In these situations, there is no opportunity to choose in person education without making some adjustments which likely come with their own problems. Online learning could easily be the best alternative available.
We tend to concentrate our technological support for those faculty who are most invested in online education and I certainly understand the need to do so. Dealing with the reality of harsh winter weather calls for more support for faculty who may be occasional users of online tools when the need arises. Doing so will allow us to better support our students.