The school year is about to begin, but let’s think about issues that arise when the school year ends. In particular, Most states mandate that their local school districts conduct 180 days of educational instruction.* Colleges and universities have similar educational rules, though their mandates are specific to mandatory attendance for individual courses. Problems emerge on both levels when the weather or unforeseen events prevent educational institutions from conducting normal activities. The major culprit familiar to those in northern states, of course, is the “snow day.” While children rejoice in not having to go to school and relish the opportunity to play in the snow, they tend to be less enthusiastic about “snow days” after realizing in the following June that they have to spend more days in school in order to make up for missed days. The issue exists on the collegiate level, though professors and students are forced to squeeze extra course-time in at the end of the semester. Why does this matter and how can eLearning come to the rescue?
Issues Associated With Altered School Calendars
1. Student Learning Impact. One might think that an extended school calendar to make up for “snow days” would impact student learning in a negative fashion: students are less motivated and more distracted. The results of this issue are mixed. A 2012 Harvard study determined that there was not a correlation of lower test scores with “snow days.”
However, a study performed by the state of Maryland came to the opposite conclusion regarding unscheduled school closures: 3% lower test scores for third-graders (with a smaller margin for fifth and sixth-graders).
While social scientists may debate the educational impact of “snow days,” there are impacts that are clear and irrefutable. For example, state-wide and national test dates for Advanced Placement or, for example, the SATs, will not change based on “snow days” in more northern parts of a state or nation. As a result, students taking these exams would have had fewer school days and hours for preparation.
2. Economic Impact. Starting school after Labor Day has been the prevailing tradition in most states and school districts. However, unforeseen school cancellations have led various school districts to start their school calendar in August. While some parents might be pleased to send their children off to school early, the hospitality industry has vociferously lobbied against the shifting of this schedule. Why? It cuts short the vacation season. Amusement and theme park attendance decrease, and local merchants face a measurable drop in their expected income.
Integrating eLearning with the School Calendar
In order to grapple with the problems noted above, eLearning can play a significant if not central role in maintaining the pace of school calendars. The web site Education Dive recently published an article about various school districts abandoning the “snow day” in favor of eLearning. This effort is part of the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee effort to introduce eLearning into the state policy. A similar strategy was adopted in 2014 by Ohio, which passed a law empowering school districts to utilize three virtual classroom days in order to make up for the “snow day.” The state of Indiana adopted a similar law.
On the collegiate and university level, however, the prevalence of eLearning has already been built into the fabric of educational operations. It would be the rare institution of higher education that has not adopted a Learning Management System of one sort or another. Blackboard is an industry leader, and it, as do others, have dedicated modules, such as Collaborate, that permit the live operation of classes for remote locations. (In fact, my wife did this during a “snow day” at American University this year and was able to interact with students in an unexpectedly engaging way while avoiding a “make-up class.”)
What might be some of the challenges for implementing such a strategy/law?
- Technological Gaps: While narrowing, economic and social gaps exist for families who can neither afford Internet connectivity nor computers. Rural school districts may also face added challenges in the context of the widespread availability of high-speed Internet.
- Parental Familiarity: Similarly, while becoming far less of an issue, some students will have parents uninitiated in computer technology and unable to facilitate eLearning at home for their children.
Despite challenges, there also are opportunities:
- An increasing number of school districts promoting a 1:1 student-to-computer ratio.
- Tech-savvy parents who cannot only facilitate eLearning in their homes, but also telecommute to their place of employment.
Given the rise and scope of eLearning in a range of educational institutions, the days of “snow days” may become a thing of the past and nostalgic movies.
Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., Learning Strategist