Sometimes I wonder if we are ever able to learn from the past.
Some things never seem to change….
Back in February 2009 we had the worst snow for twenty years. Many colleges closed, most publishing similar notices to the ones above to their websites.
At the time myself and few others recorded a podcast about the role that learning technologies and communication tools can have in supporting colleges and schools that get closed because of the snow.
I remember discussing the issue with colleagues once the snow had melted that we as a college did not make much more use of our VLE during the time we were closed. The result of the discussion was that closing for three days every twenty years was not something we really needed to spend resources and time planning for. There is a point, when there is an “out of the ordinary” event, contingency planning probably isn’t required in any great depth. Much easier just to deal with the problems resulting from the closure than try and plan just in case (which at the time) for a remote chance of closing.
However back in January 2010… the snow came back, this time the worse snow for forty years!
Once more lots of colleges and schools closed.
I discussed this at the time in my blog post on snow. My main point was:
Yes snow makes it dangerous to travel, but with the internet and mobile technologies, does it mean that learners need to stop learning just because the decision is taken to close the physical location?
So what if this snow is unprecedented? What if we are now not going to have bad snow for another twenty years?
Closures happen a lot, time to start thinking about how an educational institution can make best use of the fantastic tools that are available to it for learning. Though the first thing to do will be to change the culture. It’s not just about contingency planning, it’s about changing the way people work when there isn’t snow and changing the way people think when there is.
So here we are less than twelve months later and once more snow seems to have a massive disruptive effect. It’s not that it wasn’t even expected.
The BBC reported on the 24th November that:
The UK is entering a prolonged cold snap which could bring one of the earliest significant snowfalls since 1993, according to weather forecasters.
So more snow and we have snow closing institutions… despite the fact that we currently have the technology to enable institutions to remain “open” virtually, whilst keeping the physical site closed.
So how should educational institutions be responding? How should they prepare? John Popham back in January wrote an excellent blog post on this issue too and how we could make use of local learning centres.
So have things changed since earlier this year?
Well they had the time, they had the warning, and this is now happening on a regular basis. However we are still seeing this notices on college websites!
We do need to change the language of snow closures so that it’s not about closing, but about safety and that where possible learners should if possible be able to study and learn at home. Don’t say we’re closed, say the physical location may not be accessible (closed) but learning can continue via the VLE, online, social software, phone, SMS, local libraries, local learning centres.
Personally I think that it is not about preparation, but having the staff and learners in the right frame of mind about using online and digital tools before any more snow appears.
Changing the culture is going to take time, having access to the right tools can help, but attitude towards those tools is just as important. Culturally we have some way to go I think before snow or any other “disaster” only closes the physical location and doesn’t close the institution.