Saturday, October 31, 2009

Swine Flu - this cloud may have a silver lining

The whole swine flu epidemic came and went in the New Zealand Winter without creating much impact in my corner of the world. Sure a school down the road closed for a couple of days and a few adult friends were quarantined because of it, but it really didn't seem to have much more impact than a lot of the Winter health issues we have faced in schools over the years. Perhaps that meant the excessive hand washing and sterilising- the extra focus on hygiene- was effective? It certainly made an impact on the school administrators with the endless pandemic paperwork, planning and policies required to prepare for an outbreak. Our country has seen 14 deaths in total as a result and the weekend papers tell us that it is over and the tourists are returning because of it.

So when we arrived in Bahrain we were surprised to see what high profile H1N1 had, both in that country and amongst all the schools from the Northern Hemishere countries. In Bahrain we heard that the students were only just returning from the long Summer holiday mid October, having been told to take extra weeks off to prevent an outbreak of H1N1. This had impacted schools significantly and we spoke with teachers concerned with how they were going to prepare students for high stakes testing with the school year shortened.

However, we were very interested to hear from 3 educators from 3 different continents similar stories of how the swine flu had created an interesting positive (from their point of view) outcome in their schools. In preparing for a swine flu outbreak their schools were requiring their teachers to prepare effective virtual schooling experiences to enable their students to continue their learning from home if their schools were closed.

One teacher said they had all been asked to have 4 weeks of course content available on Moodle for the students; another said all their teachers had been required to explore synchronous and asynchronous options and submit a plan to interact with the students (eg Skype, Elluminate, blogs, wikis etc). The third educator said their institution was planning to use iTunes U to teach their students. In all of these cases, the thing that delighted them was that finally ALL teachers were being required to come on board with 21st Century learning. With the urgency of an in-your-face need, there was nowhere for the reluctant, late-adopters to hide. And they all spoke of being run off their feet providing professional support for the teachers who had either avoided professional development opportunities or simply not implemented them in the past.

I wonder how many eLearning facilitators and lead teachers have doubted if the time will ever arrive when being digitally literate will be a non-negotiable requirement for all 21st century teachers? It didn't happen in the first decade, so maybe the second decade will see it happen?

Unlike the Nothern Hemishpere, we didn't perceive the swine flu as threatening enough to take serious measures to prepare to teach large numbers of students virtually. But for anyone who was listening to Minister of Education, Anne Tolley, addressing the ULearn09 conference, we did hear her deliver a 'hard line' message to the 25% of schools (or was it teachers?) who have not yet implemented 21st Century technologies in their curriculum delivery. The interesting question is how she will insist that this happens?