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End of snow days: Virtual classrooms on the horizon

By: Heidi Ulrichsen - Sudbury Northern Life

 | Mar 19, 2014 - 3:27 PM |
Within a decade, students may be busy doing their school work online during snow days, local school board officials say. Supplied photo.

Within a decade, students may be busy doing their school work online during snow days, local school board officials say. Supplied photo.

But not anytime soon, say officials, citing technological, access limitations

In some parts of the United States, students sleeping in and watching daytime television on snow days is a thing of the past.

That's because some school districts in New Jersey and Massachusetts have introduced programs where they instead log onto the Internet at home and do their schoolwork from there.

Teachers use the day to share virtual lessons and field students' questions.

It's a system that could be useful in this region, where there have been four snow days this winter (on one of those days, buses ran in the afternoon but not the morning), and a record seven last winter.

But local school board officials say they're not ready to implement such a system here.

Sudbury Catholic District School Board chair Jody Cameron said if the board were to do this, they would have to purchase an online system where teachers could track whether or not students have done their assignments.

“That would be a huge investment for this board with the limited IT and technology dollars that we get,” he said.

“If we get more snow days, maybe, but with only three and a half, we're doing quite well, and the students are getting a good quality of education without it.”

For the Rainbow District School Board, the concern with such an initiative is equity of access, said the board's director of education, Norm Blaseg.

Because the Rainbow board covers rural areas, including Manitoulin Island and Shining Tree, not every student has access to high-speed, broadband Internet at home, he said.

There may also be homes where students don't have access to a computer, Blaseg said. While the Rainbow board has been purchasing iPads for students' use, they usually have to share.

He also points out that in the United States, a snow day usually means the school itself is closed. Not so in this region, where schools remain open and teachers report to work even if school buses aren't running that day.

On average, the attendance at Rainbow board schools on snow days is about 30 per cent, Blaseg said.

While the school board officials both say it's not feasible to run virtual classes on snow days right now, they do point out students are getting more and online access to school work.

Some teachers also have websites where they post homework and other course material, Cameron said, although it's not universal across all of Sudbury Catholic's schools.

High school students are already able to take entire courses online through a system provided by the province.

Given this context, virtual classes on snow days may become a reality within a decade, the school board officials say. “I absolutely do believe that's where we're heading,” Cameron said.
Heidi Ulrichsen

Heidi Ulrichsen

Staff Writer


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