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School closures, eLearning, and the Coronavirus

On a global scale, temporary school closures are disrupting millions of students’ and teachers’ learning.  Institutions that have integrated online technology into their daily instruction over the past years are better prepared to reduce this interruption because they have funded eLearning and trained their staff on how to use it. Institutions that have not invested in online learning technology will now struggle to meet their students’ and teachers’ needs.

Is there a solution?

So how do face-to-face classes instantly transform into online courses?  The short answer is that they do not. If there are no online courses on a school server, the best a teacher can do is teach via email, and, possibly, though video platforms such as YouTube or Skype.

Institutions that have already been utilizing learning management systems can use these for recording attendance, posting updates, media and assessments.  If these institutions have components that are intended to function in blended learning courses—a combination of face-to-face and online instruction—teachers have a chance of delivering their courses online for a short interval.  Online courses can be supported with common web camera or apps like Skype, WhatsApp or Zoom.

Issues to overcome

There are several issues that can prevent teachers from delivering their content to students at a distance.

  1. Lack of appropriate training.  Many teachers have not had any need to learn how to teach online. They are busy enough with their core duties. Instructors who have taken the plunge into online learning and others who have done their best to integrate online learning events into their instruction through blended learning have a better chance of managing classes online during a school closure.

  2. Lack of education technology structure. Institutions or departments that have moved toward compliance of eLearning standards such as the Quality Matters Standards or ISTE Standards (International Society for Technology in Education).  Standards for online technology integration ensure that institutions have structured, and reliable systems support content to deliver course with technology.  Many of these courses have the potential to be repurposed short-term to provide entirely online instruction.

  3. Lack of practical education technology specialists.  Globally, budget cuts have decimated the number of education technology specialists. This does not refer to the administrative positions at every institution, but to the EdTech instructor who is in the class and mentoring other instructors on a day-to-day basis.  Education specialists have the potential to be group leaders who will guide other instructors through methodologies and tools required to become competent users of online technologies. These specialists would also be invaluable assets in recommend technology solutions for specific purposes.

  4. Lack of practice integrating open education resources and free online content into courses.  There are so many open education resources, or OERs, that can be leveraged to enhance instruction.  If these are implemented in regular teaching practice, they would be beneficial in a time of crisis.  Examples of these are Khan Academy, PBS Learning, Smithsonian Education, Open Stax, and CK-12. In addition, experience leveraging content from MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, could alleviate the immediate need for learning materials.

  5. Student access to internet and technology.  Students may not have a home internet service or a cellular data plan or a smart device.  The digital divide will cause access issues. Other, more traditional measures may be necessary to reach these students.  These will incur disproportionate costs and will not be delivered in a timely manner.

  6. Lack of a plan. Some governments or institutions have readiness plans for supporting teaching during emergencies.  These are commonly a result of previous emergencies such as floods, or epidemics, such as the H1N1 virus. Oddly, I have been looking at plan generated after the H1N1 crisis and most of the links are dead.  So, even if there was a strategic emergency plan to support learning, some have been forgotten or more importantly been maintained to reflect current technologies.

What to do?

Remember, this is a blog post, so take these suggestions with that in mind.  My thoughts on adapting an educational institution to accommodate a long school closure would be to take the following steps.   If you have better advice or ideas, please comment below.

  1. Start planning now
  2. Gather relevant staff including eLearning champions from your region/institution
  3. Communicate any instructional plan to all stakeholders (e.g., parents, students) and ask for their patience
  4. Decide on technologies to service specific requirements
  5. Set up teacher support groups
  6. Begin the process of organizing content on an LMS or another digital host
  7. Establish a general support service using voice, text, and FAQ modes
  8. Consider and act on feedback from students, parent, staff, health services
John Allan

John Allan

John is a Canadian who writes about learning object development and online facilitation from a teacher's perspective.

12 thoughts on “School closures, eLearning, and the Coronavirus

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  • Teaching English In Algeria

    Hi John thank you for your article .Planning lessons online is a big challenge especially when thinking of those who haven’t got access to the Internet. The free access in the period of Chorona Virus is important.Teachers should provide free courses to help their countries and the humanity in general.

  • S Webber

    Hi John, Thanks for the information. I was curious to know your thoughts on the legality concerning student privacy. Also, do you know if this type of online delivery system has been done at a National University, small or large scale were the use of social media is not an option.

    • Swebber, student privacy protections vary by jurisdiction. All of the elements mentioned in this log post are in common use on all scales of online and hybrid courses in different combinations and configurations. My point is that many institutions would be more prepared diligently for this crisis if they had taken basic steps to promote blended and online learning adhering to good practices.

  • Anna Bartosik

    Thank you John, for your explanation of the issues with and strategy for delivering learning online. I have some additional thoughts about this related to professional development:

    In an effort to lessen our carbon footprint, how might these issues and steps be addressed for international conferences? If organizers applied the budgets they have for establishing platforms for virtual sessions, educators and graduate students from countries where currencies are not as strong/salaries are not high would be able to participate as delegates and presenters. Imagine how this might change the make up of presentations and topics at conferences. This change might even change the dominant language of conferences.

    Planning for an international flue outbreak may be the short-term incentive for reconsidering face-to-face conferences, but imagine what impact it could have on educators’ professional development. Everything you outline as an issue is also true of global conferences; everything you describe in the process is applicable.


    • Anna, I agree that we should be leveraging online technologies as a rule as the norm rather than a reaction to a crisis. I bet institutions that have been diligent in adhering to good 21st century practices are in a good position to survive their school closure without too much disruption. Many however, will have to teach into the summer.

  • Hi John. Thank you for sharing insight on this very relevant topic. I agree with your ideas, and believe that it is imperative for all teachers to implement e-learning into their education plan in order to prevent disruptions in education in times like this.

    • Soph8ie, hopefully many institutions have a plan ready to act on. I hope this is not going to disrupt your educational situation.

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