On Monday, the sixth day off due to weather for Xavier High School students and staff this school year, Principal Tom Keating sent a short message via Twitter.
“Wow. School closed again – what a surprise. Log in to Canvas, Saints. Teacher may have posted things to work on. #techkeepsusconnected”
Beginning this year, Xavier – part of the Xavier Catholic Schools – issued iPads to each of the Cedar Rapids school’s more than 700 students in grades nine through 12. Instructors then use the web-based system Canvas, to post assignments, videos of lessons and notes.
Students then can submit questions and assignments via Canvas.
Not every teacher posted content on Monday, Keating noted, because staff members still have work to do to set the expectation that students will check Canvas on days when class is canceled. However, he said the technology and Internet have made it easier for learning to happen when the weather stops students from getting to the classroom.
“There are different levels with different teachers in different courses with how much is being done on a day like today. I’d like to move in the direction of doing more and making it more of a formal process,” Keating said Monday.
“I think we’re in a better position to feel like students are continuing to learn.”
Pairing individual students with technology devices is often known as 1:1 (pronounced “one to one”) in education circles, and Xavier is just one area school embracing the initiative. Students in grades seven through 12 in the Van Horne-based Benton Community School District each receive iPads as well.
“Certainly students have the ability to access lessons, materials, and the ability to communicate with staff on days they are not at school and at home due to the weather,” Superintendent Gary Zittergruen wrote in an email to The Gazette on Monday. “That said, I do not believe we are at the implementation level or application stage where an academic day of learning could be independently addressed through student learning at home with use of the technology tools and resources.”
As long as students have web access – Keating suggested students go to local eateries or coffee shops if their homes don’t have Internet connections – Xavier students can fit learning into days when school isn’t in session.
“Instead of spending a whole day on Netflix and whatever social media we can be on, students can spend some time on instruction,” Keating said. “With the technology we have, (we’re) able to connect with students and say, ‘We do have a snow day, but that doesn’t mean instruction’s going to stop.’”
The harsh winter weather and the access to iPads have resulted in a perfect brainstorm for the principal, who said he hopes to work with staff to get eventually to a point where an unscheduled day off does not result in learning interruptions for students.
“I think the possibilities are endless in terms of this,” Keating said, though he noted that instructors would have to adapt some lessons to web-friendly formats.
Keating also mentioned that one benefit of being able to deliver complete instruction online would be keeping district calendars intact instead of scheduling makeup days at the end of the year, which some administrators have sought relief from this year.
While students in Iowa can enroll in online schools or homeschools, “there is no mechanism in place to allow schools to have their students use their laptops in lieu of coming to the building,” Jim Flansburg, interagency liaison for the Iowa Department of Education, wrote in an email to The Gazette. “Any sort of mechanism would have to be created by the Legislature.”