Preparing for an Emergency Closing

On Wednesday, October 28th, the principal of our high school and I planned an experience for our weekly faculty meeting. We wanted to simulate the conditions that we may experience if faced with an emergency closure, either for H1N1, fire, tornado, or other reason to do so.

At noon, the following email message was sent to our high school faculty:

Upper School Colleagues,

Our meeting today will begin at 3:30 as planned but we will not convene as a group in the conference room until 4:10.  Please look for an email message at 2:30 that explains what we will be doing at 3:30 to begin our meeting.

Please notify your colleagues about this, in case they do not have time to access their email before the meeting

Then at 2:30, high school faculty members recieved the following email:

Upper School Colleagues,

In order to experience some of the possible solutions that we need to employ if we begin to experience larger numbers of both student and faculty absences due to H1N1, we feel that it is important that we conduct a small drill to begin to test our readiness.

For this experience, we are asking that you simulate the conditions that would exist if you were to have the flu by staying in your classroom. If you have questions during this simulation, please use your phone to call contact the help desk or a fellow colleague to get assistance.

During this simulation, you will be experiencing synchronous tools, which can be used by many at the same time (Chat Room and Google Docs) and asynchronous tools, which can be used by individuals regardless of the time (Flip Video recording to YouTube, Google Docs). Another asynchronous tool that you may already be using on Moodle is the forum feature.

During the meeting today, please note any problems that you may experience while participating. It is important for us to identify areas which need further attention. Examples might include time lag in trying to watch the video or trouble accessing the chat room.  We also want to know whether there any hardware or software issues that prevent you from accessing the various elements of the simulation.

We will also want to determine areas where you may need to get further help with the various tools, either through  individual or small group training which we will be scheduled in the future.

We will begin our meeting today utilizing a Moodle course which can be found under the Staff Development section entitled H1N1 Prep.

Between 3:20 and 3:30, please go to H1N1 Prep course. In the course, you will see the resources for the meeting. Here you will find an opening video and two resources titled, Faculty Feedback on Teaching and Schedule and Upper School Weekly Timetable Model 6 x6.

For this part of the meeting please:

  1. Watch the video introduction
  2. Read the Faculty Feedback on Teaching and Schedule
  3. Join the chat room Feedback – Teaching and Scheduling Priorities to share your thoughts and react to the comments of others.
  4. Review the US Weekly Timetable Model 6 x 6 (Sample Schedule)
  5. Respond to the writing prompt on the Google Doc, Feedback on US 6 x 6 Model

We will reconvine at 4:15 for a 15 minute debrief on the experience of utilizing Moodle, working in the chat room, and working on the Google Doc.

We look forward to connecting with you shortly.

As expected, it was an interesting experience. What I share next is my reflections on the experience this morning with our high school faculty:

I first want to thank your willingness to try something different during yesterdays faculty meeting. I also want to apologize for the length of this email. I feel that it is important to share my reflections and reactions to the experience we shared yesterday.

I do feel that the experience was successful for many reasons, including:

Exposure to the Flip Cameras. The opening comments were recorded using one of the Flip Cameras and tripods that we now have available for checkout in the library. If you are unfamiliar with these cameras, these cameras are low cost, small (the size of a deck of cards) cameras which will shoot up to 120 minutes of video using AA batteries. While not capable of high quality video, for many of our student projects they are sufficient enough to record and upload to YouTube, TeacherTube, Moodle, or VoiceThread. (Please see Sharon Minnoch if you want more information)

The introduction of the Chat activity of Moodle. This module allows for a group of students to have a synchronous (at the same time) conversation. Some of our teachershave used this module with some success in their Bio-Psych course in the past. This is in addition to the Chat capabilities available in our Google Applications for Education. The Google chat, however, is capable of maintaining a 1 to 1 conversation.

Your ability to access Moodle and Google Applications. It is helpful to know that you can access and utilize these tools, since they may be a large part of a strategy that you use to deal with long term absence and closure, but also as a strategy to supplement your face to face teaching environment.

We also learned that there are several areas that need further reflection and development. These include:

The changes in how voices are perceived in an online environment. Many of you found the chat environment disorienting. This is because it different than the classroom discussion model that many of you are employing during your synchronous, face to face classes. In a chat room, the power of thought is democratized. The side comment, which may be directed at one individual and shared in hushed tones in a live conversation, seems to have the same weight as the one which is on point. The rules of order that exist in a classroom environment, the fact that I wait my turn to speak until the current person is done, that I raise my hand, that I can nod and use physical gestures, like nodding in agreement or disagreement disappear when working in an environment where we cannot see each other. Rules for behavior in this environment have to be established and cultivated. Having both taught and participated in many online experiences, these behaviors canemerge over time and experience, the same way that they can in the classroom

People need direction to understand what do, since it is more difficult to ask clarifying questions. At the beginning, there seemed to be confusion about what was supposed to be included in the Google Doc, It would be better and helpful to have included directions and prompt questions included to help guide participants, so that they know what the expectations are for their participation.

In an online environment, there is going to be competition for attention. Yesterday, the competition was the desire to nosh on the great set of refreshments. In the case of an absence or closure, you or students may either be ill, be distracted by others who happen to be in the house or apartment, a great Oprah episode that on the television, or the desire to listen to music. It is important to design experiences so that they are short, simple, and meaningful and are constructed so that they can be listened to, watched, or read, and then give the student the chance to reflect and compose their reply. It is often best to allow one to post their reflections, and then have time for others to reply, and then allow the participant to come back at a later point in time. This is why forum discussions and blog posts may be better tools for this, as they are tools to allow individuals to read, reflect, and then comment, giving time for each to occur, rather than force discussion over a short period of time.

I know that for me personally, that I was getting antsy at the end of the experience. I needed to get up and move, but with the compressed time and interactive aspects of yesterday’s experience, it would have been difficult to do so. We all agree that it is difficult to sit and stare at a screen for a 40 minute period. How many of you did so? In the case of an absence or emergency closing, it will be difficult to expect a student or faculty member to be chained to their screen for a seven hour stretch. Even with more demands that expect us to sit in front of our screens (reading email, entering in grades electronically, etc.) we often get up, stretch, walk to the lounge to get coffee, go and sit and chat during lunch. These are all normal and important activities. One needs to design instruction factoring this need and desire to get up and move for a long term closure.

Old fashioned text and audio are good methods of communicating. When discussing possibilities, everyone seems to gravitate to experiences which are interactive, flashy, and video. While these are all good mediums, the oldest ones, use of audio, text, pictures, and drawings, are still powerful and oftentimes easier and better ways to communicate messages quickly. In the case of a closure, we may not have the time to develop material like Dave and I did. We may have to ramp up quicker without having the time to develop the materials that we would like to. In our discussion, we cannot forget the importance of text and audio.

From this experience, I hope that you are now better aware of the challenges that may face us in the case of an emergency closure. I hope that you will continue to think and ask yourself that if faced with an emergency closure or an extended absence by yourself or your students, how will learning continue to happen?

One thought on “Preparing for an Emergency Closing

  1. Vinnie, wow, what a tremendous experiment! Simulation is a great tool for learning. I found your preliminary thoughts intriguing and they made a lot of sense. I can see how we might want tools that mirror our face-to-face classrooms experiences and how the different affordances/constraints of the digital tools make that confusing.

    I’d love to hear more about what faculty members thought/went through, etc. Perhaps you should tell them to comment here!

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