Neither rain nor snow can keep kids from online learning


Thursday, April 24, 2014 - 1:00am

This was a tough winter for schools across America. The 2013-14 polar vortex played havoc with everyday schedules and snow storms seemed to inexplicably strike on school nights, causing more closures and delays than we’ve seen in previous years. This year superintendents found themselves frequently having to make the tough decision between putting children’s lives at risk on treacherous roads, or putting their calendars and curriculums at risk by keeping kids home.

However, there are some school districts that have found a way—using today’s online learning solutions—to make the decision easy. One such school district is using online learning tools to implement “E-Days” that enable students to stay safe from harsh winter conditions without negatively impacting their learning. Although this may take some of the fun out of waking up to a sea of white, it’s making it possible for schools to close their campuses without setting their students back.

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Lou Kramer, the Superintendent of the Northeastern Local School District (NELSD), a district in Ohio that has been utilizing “E-Days.” Dr. Kramer will be participating in an upcoming webinar titled, “Turning Snow Days Into E-Learning Days—How to Use Online Learning to Finish School on Time,” where he’ll provide details on the NELSD program and its benefits.

Here is what Dr. Kramer had to say:

FuelEducation: How large of an issue have snow days been for the NELSD this year and in the past? Why are snow days detrimental and what impact do they have on the school year?

Dr. Kramer: Our district canceled ten school days this year and delayed school an additional 12 days due to the weather. In total, this accounts for about 72 hours of lost instruction—not to mention a significant disruption in learning.

FuelEducation: How has NELSD dealt with snow days in the past? Has the district added extra days to the school year? Expanded the length of remaining school days? How does this negatively impact the schools and their ability to educate students?

Dr. Kramer: In the past the district has made up days during planned days off such as spring break or President’s Day, or added days to the end of the school year. When doing this, the district must take into consideration issues such as additional compensation for staff, the spring break plans of our students and their families, and effectively communicating a change in our instructional calendar to our community.

Because of these issues it becomes challenging to make up multiple days during the second semester. Consequently, if days of instruction are needing to be made up, they are often added to the end of the school year.

Since our state assessments are administrated in late April and early May each year, front-loading any instruction prior to this time is a priority. This makes adding days to the end of the school year less advantageous.

FuelEducation: In a recent news article posted on the NELSD Web site, it says that the district has been using “E-Days” to help alleviate the strain of snow days. What are these “E-Days” and what advantages do they offer over previous methods of dealing with snow days?

Dr. Kramer: An “E-Day” is simply a term used to refer to how a school district can make up a lost day of instruction using resources online. In our state, school districts may make up three (3) days of lost instruction by posting assignments on their websites for students to complete.

“E-Days” present our district an additional strategy for supporting classroom instruction. Unlike adding days to the end of the school year, the additional instruction complements in-class assignments and occurs in real time, thereby helping our students and teachers prepare for assessments for which they will both be held accountable.

In our district, we have used this strategy to help build capacity for blended learning in each classroom throughout the district. Never one to waste a crisis, we have attempted to use our harsh winter in a way to help improve our learning options for our students.

FuelEducation: In the article, it says that “E-Days” have been in use since 2011. How have these “E-Days” changed in recent years with the addition of online learning courses? How has this impacted the quality of “E-Days?”

Dr. Kramer: “E-Days” and “Blizzard Bags,” which is the practice of sending hard copy assignments home to students in order to make up lost instructional time, have been an option for Ohio school districts since 2011. Our district was initially hesitant about implementing either practice due to concerns regarding the instructional integrity of both strategies.

Over the last three years, we have worked diligently to improve our infrastructure, both in terms of hardware and software, to build blended learning options for our kids.

This year—with every student and teacher in our district having access to both a learning management system and core curricular software—we were much better positioned to make this strategy work. We are currently implementing our third “E-Day” and have learned much during the process this year.

FuelEducation: Can you describe the “E-Day” experience for a student? What would an “E-Day” be like? What kind of content will they digest, and how can teachers ensure that what they are assigned is inline with their curriculum?

Dr. Kramer: When the district has a cause to cancel school, the district will establish a window for students to complete “E-Day” assignments. An announcement is made to students and parents regarding the availability and due dates of assignments, as well as resources available for students.

The Ohio Department of Education requires districts to allow two weeks for students to complete assignments. In the case of an “E-Day”, completed student assignments not only count as part of a student’s course grade but also as credit for attending school.

We encouraged our teachers to use our Fuel Education products hosted via Blackboard as the main method for delivery of course content. Essentially, this resource provides teachers with the ability to match current course content with online resources quickly and easily and to assess student learning.

Teachers are also encouraged to use other online resources such as videos and Google for Education products. Teachers were given collaborative time to develop lessons and to continue learning how to use online resources in the best way in their classrooms. We are assessing the process by looking at data regarding the completion and accuracy of assessments, student focus groups, and teacher and parent surveys.

FuelEducation: In the article, it says that “E-Days” are a good way for teachers and students to get accustomed to the district’s online learning courses, which will see additional uses in the future. What are the future plans for online courses? What other uses, aside from “E-Days,” will online courses have in the NELSD moving forward?

Dr. Kramer: The goal in our district is simple—to see every classroom as a blended classroom. We are hoping to use this process to help teachers better use technology to support and facilitate classroom learning.

Eventually, we would like to see courses tailored as much as possible to student needs, including the delivery of content. As a district we have worked hard to define the current methods in which we provide learning to our students and then to identify and support ways to expand those options.

If you’d like to learn more about “E Days” and how they can help your school district eliminate snow days, register for the upcoming Webinar, “Turning Snow Days Into E-Learning Days—How to Use Online Learning to Finish School on Time,” by clicking HERE.


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