Of the many angles to take around why blended and online learning can be a beneficial asset and component of the learning process, one that I often have in the back of my mind during a inclement weather is that it can help mitigate against circumstances that might significantly impede the educational process. Of course, doing away with the concept of snow days is not appealing to a lot of students out there, but there can be other weather events that render it challenging to travel to an educational experience, from hurricane-related, to earthquake, to general public safety.
Now, as I learned in Baltimore in the winter of 2010, even online can be a serious challenge when there are infrastructure threats. Having tried to solve the challenge of a class canceled due to a snow storm with a synchronous online session, this turned out to be more complicated than it was worth when a number of students had power and internet failures. Even converting to asynchronous activities was challenging for some students as the region was pummeled with 4 feet of snow in two separate storms just a few days apart. Even with those hassles and necessary flexibility for some students we were able to stay on track in the course. However, what about those events that prove to be more impactful than a couple of class sessions?
In looking at applications of blended learning at a large scale and strategy level, academic writing from post-earthquake New Zealand yields some insight into some methods used to keep learners on track during that chaotic time.
Mackey et al describe the response of the University of Canterbury’s School of Education to the post-earthquake scenario and identifies a “waves of response” model to the event itself and the phases needed to respond to the unfolding situation.
From Mackey et al
It also demonstrates the difference between using blended/online learning as a short-term solution for a very minor disruption, to the overall shift needed to connect, regroup, and build capacity for the larger, systemic change that must occur in reaction to the large scale event. This model is helpful for conceptualizing the long-term nature of the investment of time and resources into being able to successfully implement blended or elearning in response, and the need for resources for capacity-building in waves 2 and 3, so everyone can get up to speed on what is needed.
Accordingly, in comes research such as Alice Cruikshank’s thesis on elearning in the public library environment was directly related to the aftermath of the earthquakes, where even when some services had been restored, physical buildings remained closed to the public for years. This would tie into those latter waves of response, where there is a recognition of the need for change and programs put into place from this need, particularly as it becomes clearer that while there are resources (people) available, rebuilding physical spaces will take a long time.
Another interesting approach is the idea of responsive curriculum and service-learning as an integral part of the educational experience as proposed by O’Steen and Perry, also at the University of Canterbury. They quote Charles Fritz who describes that “essential effect of
shock is to arrest habitual repetitive patterns of behavior and to cause a redefinition and restructuring of the situation in accordance with present realities” (p. 55).” This resonates with that wave of response model above as an impetus to drive change in behavior. O’Steen and Perry then write, “With regard to curriculum, this “arrest [of] habitual patterns of behavior” could be metaphorically viewed as a call to adjust the curriculum in order to lean toward the disaster, not shy away from it. This jolt can lead to new ideas, different perspectives and a fundamental
restructure of action and reaction according to immediate concerns.” (p.3). The paper also references online discussions as one of the tools used in the service-learning course that was developed– and why not?
Online learning should be equipped to accompany transformative experience nicely.