Teachers and students alike seem to avidly watch winter weather updates (at least in the snowy Midwest where I live) in hopes of a glorious day off, also known as a snow day. In other parts of the country, it could be hurricanes, heavy rains, or anything that might cancel a normal day of school. In recent years, many schools are now 1:1 with each student having their own computer/device. Taking advantage of this development, these snow days have turned into eLearning days for many school systems across the nation. In Indiana, this practice is in its fourth year in the 2016-2017 school year. Schools apply to use the IDOE’s Virtual Option for Inclement Weather and are able to have students and teachers work from home. Instead of making up the day out of school, the day is spent accessing instruction via a Learning Management System (LMS).
An eLearning day sounds like an easy day off for a teacher-librarian. No classes checking out books or coming to the library for research...but for many school librarians, eLearning days can be even busier than a normal day at school! I know that sounds absolutely astonishing because if you’re a teacher-librarian reading this, you KNOW how busy each and every day is! What’s that you ask? What in the world could a school librarian have to do on an eLearning day when students are at home? Plenty! Here are some examples of what eLearning days meant for me in my school district.
During a normal school day, like many librarians I wore all kinds of hats while in the building (some official—and some unofficial). My title, Library & Instructional Technology Specialist, merged the roles of teacher-librarian with technology coach/collaborator and sprinkled in professional development leader as well. The technology part of my role meant that eLearning days had a wealth of responsibilities.
First, I was responsible for updating the school website so that the eLearning day scheduled was front and center! A nice bold graphic and confirmation of school being closed for an eLearning day had to happen as soon as I was notified by my superintendent about school being closed (aka the early morning phone call).
Second, I was one of two Canvas administrators. (My school system uses Canvas as our LMS to deliver instruction and assignments online). During an eLearning day, this role was my most important one to fulfill. First of all, I was available to our staff as soon as an eLearning day was called. I sent an email out to all K-12 staff letting them know they could contact me to troubleshoot and/or fix any issues they might encounter in Canvas. I had teachers contacting me via text, phone call, email, or even social media private messages with questions. Helping these teachers quickly and ensuring their assignments/links were accessible to students and parents at home was pivotal to the success of an eLearning day. At first it seemed like a non-stop helpline, but eventually teachers became more confident in their usage of Canvas and there were fewer bugs to squash and fires to put out with successive eLearning days.
My professional development hat came into play as I offered training and sessions for teachers with Canvas throughout the school year so they would be ready when they got “the call” for an eLearning day. We did not just leap into eLearning days, we had to prepare. We offered Canvas training before and after school to demonstrate how to best use the tool. For teachers unable to attend trainings or for those who needed extra help, I met individually with them as much as possible. Many teachers had practice eLearning times with their students during a portion or period of a regular school day. Our school system also had a scheduled eLearning day in November for students and teachers to practice and work out the kinks.
Third, and probably most importantly, I was a point of contact for students. Just like during a normal day, when students had problems in Canvas or with their Google account, or they needed help finding information and resources to support their eLearning activities, they would stop by to see me. During an eLearning day, I need to be able to provide my students with the same services they get in our brick and mortar library, only virtually instead. So, while I can’t direct them to a book, I can make connections to databases, online resources, eBooks, etc. Just as I would help individual students in the library, I do that same thing during an eLearning day. In addition, my role as technology specialist was enhanced on eLearning days for students, too. Students would send me a message on Canvas or email my school account if they needed assistance. Most of the time this assistance included a password reset for either Google or Canvas. Students were often trying to access these accounts on a non-school issued device and didn’t have their passwords committed to memory. These interactions with students were usually brief, but the students were always appreciative of the help so they could access their assignments and get to work!
In addition to running point for any online problems for students and staff, I also needed to post assignments/instructions for my own daily class of film production as well as be available for any questions those students might have regarding the day’s focus. In addition, I could create modules for the classroom teachers to include in their Canvas courses for classes that had been scheduled to be in the library. These modules could link to online resources, video lessons, or anything that might help students to work on projects from home.
Learning in the online environment isn’t always easy, but being a resource available to the students and teachers all day during an eLearning day is a great way to make sure they have the support they need to be successful. Just as we know the value of having access to the librarian in the school every day, we need that connection in the online world as well.
For students without Internet access, arrangements were made to either send materials home, including downloading resources to their computer or sending paper copies and textbooks if needed. These arrangements could only be made when eLearning days were anticipated for the next day. For unexpected or consecutive eLearning days, our school opened up when it was safe and offered Internet access, supervised by paraprofessionals in the school libraries.
For me, the change to an eLearning day from a face to face day at school had the advantages of comfy clothes and a ball cap, but it was never in any way less work—no sitting around binge watching Netflix and eating bags of chips. If they’re an integral part of their school, teacher-librarians are also an integral part of eLearning days. No matter what hat you wear in the school, the teacher-librarian can be a crucial staff member in making eLearning a successful learning opportunity for students. eLearning means that both students and staff are working a normal day, but just in a different environment. For districts where there is a lot of snow each year, this can really help to lessen the impact on make-up days and lost instructional time.
Good bye care-free snow days...hello eLearning days! Good bye make-up days in June...hello out before Memorial Day!