We've been chatting this week at Berkhamsted about how we'd cope with a flu pandemic.
Now, the school's had an emergency plan since Bird Flu threatened to wipe out the known world a few years back. What's changed since then is the wide range of free online learning tools that can be used to keep students and teachers in touch with each other, should schools themselves be physically shut.
Back in February when heavy snow shut us down for a week, we created a Facebook group and sent work out. It might not have been pretty but it did function and kept the information flowing in the right direction.
We do have Moodle as our virtual learning environment and that's what we'll use should Swine Flu necessitate a full closure.
However, there are some interesting free online tools that may be of interest, and certainly are ones that I would look to use as complements.
One problem with a VLE like Moodle is that it's great for offering up asynchronous content, but it's not so good for providing the real-time interaction that makes learning fun and engaging.
Here are two solutions:
- Dim Dim is a great online collaboration tool, that allows a teacher to host a learning session where participants can see/hear each other, make instant text contributions, and use an on-screen whiteboard. Images and documents can be loaded onto the whiteboard and annotated by the teacher and students. Dim Dim also offers instant feedback functionality with thumbs up/down icons. It's a great way to bring real-time interaction to life online. Dim Dim is free for up to 20 participants.
- Cover It Live does something similar but can be embedded into an existing blog, Wiki or website. As a complement to material you may have prepared for students to download and work on, CIL allows you to run live, moderated blogging. Users don't need a password, or an invitation. It allows live and pre-loaded presentation of weblinks, YouTube videos, still images, plus some excellent real-time polling tools, so ideas can be tested and audience feedback shown visually. The end chat can be archived and played back, thus making a reusable resource. This is something I've discovered only recently and intend to trial shortly. It's being used by large media outlets and range of other business companies. It's use in schools seems to be limited, but I found a great presentation about using CIL and similar tools, in what's known as 'back channelling' here. Thanks to Scott H. Snyder for putting it together.
One final tool that I've just come across that looks fantastic is Prezi, a Hungarian presentation tool that takes the idea of sharing multimedia information and turns it on its head. I can't begin to describe how it works, so have a look, have a play, get hooked, get students using it, and change how you think. I intend to do all of the former in the near future. Once you've seen it you'll see what I mean.