Perhaps the most obvious difference between classroom based and online learning is the latter’s availability from any location at any time.
One particular benefit of a VLE in this regard is the ability to use it to support teaching and learning if the school is forced to close, whether that’s due to extreme weather, security risks or an outbreak of illness.
Your VLE can be a vital tool in these instances, allowing lessons and exam preparation to continue, even if the closure lasts weeks or months.
To take advantage of this however, you need to be prepared well in advance. Assuming you already have a VLE in place (if not, that’s the crucial first step) it’s time to look at how it’s being used currently.
- Do staff, students and parents know how to find and access the VLE? Is there support in place for users who have forgotten their login details?
- Do all departments have sufficient courses, activities and resources within the VLE to support learning over an extended period of closure?
- Can the courses be used independently of the classroom – are they self contained?
- Are staff and students able to communicate via the VLE, via messaging, web chat or similar?
If you find any issues in these areas, now’s the time to tackle them, whether that be via arranging extra training, communicating best practice across departments, or implementing policy changes.
It may seem like a daunting task, but it’s much easier to address these problems now, so your VLE is well set up when you need it most.
Once you’ve established that the platform is fit for purpose should the worst happen, you’ll need to draw up an emergency plan so that staff, students and parents know what’s expected in the event of a closure.
Within the plan you may want to include specific instructions on accessing the VLE, communicating with teachers, where updates to the situation will be posted, how often users will be expected to log in, and where to turn for help if there are problems with accessing or using the platform.
You’ll need to assign responsibility for providing this support, and also monitoring that the platform is being used correctly during the closure, perhaps to the most experienced VLE users within each department.
If the worst happens, and it’s necessary to implement your plan, make the time to note down the positive and negative aspects of using the VLE in place of the classroom. These notes will be invaluable in refining your planning for next time, and could also be used to improve your e-learning strategy generally.
Once the school reopens, and it’s business as usual, don’t forget to gather representatives from each user group, staff, students and parents for a retrospective on how successful the plan was in maintaining effective teaching and learning, and how it could be improved in future.
Looking on the bright side, some of the schools we’ve spoken to have found unexpected benefits from being “forced” into relying on their VLE as the main hub for teaching and learning, including renewed interest in the system, better home-school communication and parental support, empowerment of students to take responsibility for their own learning and more personalised and detailed interactions between teachers and students.
We’d be interested to hear from any school who has successfully implemented such an emergency plan, or if you’re looking for advice on how to prepare your e-learning provision for such an event, we’d be happy to share our advice.