The month of January has seen a number of different weather events that have caused dangerous conditions. This has been so prevalent that the term "polar vortex" has suddenly been forced into public consciousness.
Many schools across the country have been closed due to snow, ice and freezing temperatures. In the past, this meant a snow day — sleeping in, playing outside and most importantly, no school work. However, because of the advances of technology, these days have now become "virtual days" for some students.
A recent article from Ohio Valley news outlet The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register, profiled Bishop Donahue High School. The organization is testing what it calls "cyber days" where on snow days, classes are held online. According to Principal Tom Wise, this is a way to keep students engaged and continue lessons instead of taking the full day off. This has been especially important this year, as several days have already been cancelled due to weather.
Classes are not handled in real time. Rather, teachers email assignments in the morning and students have until early evening to complete them. Teachers are expected to be available through email or chat to answer questions that students may have throughout the day.
For Bishop Donahue High School, this is not a new process as virtual learning is something that is already happening in the classroom. The school has implemented a One-to-One program where every student has been provided with an iPad. On top of that, textbooks are digital, assignments are already handled online or through mobile applications and email is a standard part of communication.
"This is how our day-to-day communications go anyway," Wise said. "All of our work is done through simple apps like Notability and Dropbox. Our kids and staff are well-versed in this kind of communication."
He added that with more higher education organizations running online classes — in some cases entire programs consist in a virtual platform — it is important for students to understand how to operate in this system. Starting with these school-from-home days is the first step toward this.
Bishop Donahue High School is not the only organization that is working this way. Educational facilities across the country are also rolling out similar programs. WHDH, an NBC affiliate in Boston, profiled Coyle Cassidy Memorial High School in Taunton, which is also testing out online learning during snow days.
Much like Bishop Donahue, Coyle Cassidy has an iPad program that puts a tablet into the hands of every student to use throughout the year. Vice Principal Kathleen St. Laurent told the news source that this process has been a "really good beginning" for a virtual learning system.
Somewhat surprisingly, students and parents have been excited about learning at home. Paul Vasal, the parent of a freshman, was "amazed" that technology allowed this kind of learning to take place.
"I like to work because we get to go over things. It's easier, when we come back we're not behind," said Hanna Laghetto, 10th grader.
The iPad and improved internet capabilities have changed the way that many organizations are able to operate. School systems are following in the footsteps of many businesses that have completed an iPad deployment and have made remote access and virtual platforms a standard piece of business.