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Preparing for the Swine Flu

Wasn’t it just last year that we were all going to be wiped out by the avian flu?

Now we have the swine flu spreading quickly, not half-a-world away but right close to home.

As I read the stories in the morning paper, my warped little mind dredged up the memory of a meeting I had to attend a couple of weeks ago.

The gathering was part of the planning for the roll out of a new VPN (virtual private network) system for our overly large school district.

One of the motivating factors for the move was a regulation somewhere in the books requiring that our IT department make it possible for at least 75% of our staff to work from remote locations in case of a “pandemic” flu.

Our current VPN allows fewer than half through the door at any one time.

There’s nothing funny about having to close the physical schools due to a major flu epidemic, but I still had to smile at the concept of trying to operate an education system of our size completely online.

Like many other districts, we actively discourage students, teachers, and administrators from using the kind of social networking tools in their teaching and learning that would make the process much easier.

In addition, we do a poor job of training our teachers, much less our students, how to work effectively online. And we certainly don’t provide them with the tools to do the job.

Other than Blackboard, of course.

However, while district regulations require that every teacher maintains their class sites in Blackboard, it’s such a clunky system that relatively few of them (I’d estimate less than a quarter) are using it for the kind of truly interactive instruction that would be required to continue what we think of as “school” during a major shut down of the physical spaces.

Of course, in the case of a major epidemic, I’m pretty sure that maintaining our formal educational system will probably be a much lower priority for our parents than other things… like food, clean water, and staying alive.

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2 Comments

  1. It’s all about priorities. As a worrier, it’s difficult for me to even watch the news. Your idea of students and teachers being able to continue class online is a good one. It would eliminate bad weather days.

  2. I agree that we do a poor job of training our teachers and students how to work effectively online. We don’t see this as a priority and we don’t make the necessary investments in order to prepare for more online learning (whether for just a general move to more innovative and flexible learning environments or to prepare for emergencies where we need the flexibility). I wrote my thoughts on this here.

    I do agree that in cases of major epidemics, other things like personal safety, clean food and water, and basic services do trump the formal education system. However, we shouldn’t let that become an excuse. It is also highly recommended (by mental health professionals) that we try to get kids back into a normal routine as soon as possible following any major epidemic or natural disaster — and in many situations, the only way to do that might be through online learning (if we have prepared for that). Returning to a secure school building might no be an option following a hurricane, ice storm, or outbreak of tornadoes.

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