For those readers not living in the Northeastern United States, you might not have heard of the crazy winter we’ve been having. At my institution, we’ve already seen numerous closures, delays and interruptions due to snow and ice storms. The weather challenges have wrecked havoc to many instructors’ syllabi and to the continuity of their coursework. With another major storm on the horizon, educators, students and parents are holding their breath and wondering if this winter will ever end. These are strange days, indeed.
Last week’s weather was particularly crazy in our area. After a cancellation on Monday due to 10 inches of snow, Wednesday’s classes were cancelled due to a thick covering of freezing rain. Wednesday’s chaos was troubling for me because I had invited several local teachers to my classroom to introduce a project that my students would be completing with them. As it became apparent Tuesday night that Wednesday’s classes would be cancelled, I started to wonder what I could do to still keep the project on track. With state testing providing little flexibility in the teachers’ schedules, I needed to find a way to keep my students on the original timeline. But, what could I do?
Late Tuesday night, I emailed my students and the teachers and invited them to participate in an online class meeting. Since the university was technically cancelled, I didn’t require my students to attend. I also worried that as the ice storm approached that many of the students would lose power. I just hoped that enough students and teachers could attend the session so it would be valuable and meet my objectives for the day.
As class time approached, I waited in the online classroom space and wondered whether any students or teachers would attend. One by one, students and teachers started showing up. As the online session began, I was shocked to see that 80% of the students were in attendance. While the synchronous online environment wasn’t ideal, the teachers were still able to interact with students, introduce themselves and discuss the project. The session was able to foster enough collaborative spirit that I feel like we’re still on track with the project. The session was recorded so those students who were unable to attend can watch it on their own time. Despite the crazy weather, I consider the day to be a real success!
On campus and abroad, I offer a lot of professional development on online teaching and blended learning. I explain to my professional development attendees that online instruction should not used simply because it’s more convenient. We as instructors need to focus on the BEST ways to meet instructional objectives and foster learning communities in our classrooms, whether offered through online or face-to-face environments. While online classes offer more flexibility and convenience, they also offer additional means of collaboration, communication and interaction. Faced with no other means of communicating and collaborating with my students last week, I have to admit that I appreciated the flexibility and convenience that the synchronous space offered. As the ice storm caused power outages and traffic accidents throughout the area, I also appreciated the safety the online environment offered. I found comfort in knowing that while they were participating in our online discussion, I wasn’t putting my students’ safety at risk. As these “strange days” are forecast to continue, I appreciate that online instruction can offer some convenient and safe educational alternatives.