It was a pleasure talking with Kay Gentsch, Campus Technology Specialist at Bishop Lynch High School in Texas, about how they implemented virtual learning days this winter vs. closing school and risk having to shorten summer break. Read the Q&A below to see how they’ve ensured successful virtual learning days.

Q: What initiated your desire to create virtual learning days?
A: No one likes to give up their days at the end of the year or around spring break so we wanted to have virtual learning days when inclement weather occurred. This year was the first year that our students brought their own laptops to school which made the virtual learning transition easier.

Q: Do these days count as full days of school?
A: Yes, they count as full days of school. This was our first year to try it. We had four inclement weather days and only had to make up one of them.  Next year, there will be a firmer process so we won’t have to worry about limiting the number of days we use.

Q: How do you go about getting approval for these days? Are there certain requirements in Texas?
A: We got approval through the diocese. We followed what another school in our diocese had already been doing for virtual learning days. This particular school had construction days so that’s what initiated their need for virtual learning days.

Q: How did you go about announcing virtual learning days? What tools did you use to announce it?
A: Every teacher was required to email their classes through our learning management system, Blackboard Learn and our gradebook. We also used our Blackboard notification solution to ensure parents got a phone call about it being a virtual learning day. We posted the announcement on Twitter and Facebook as well.

Q: What tools did you use to implement these virtual learning days?
A: Everything was run through Blackboard Learn. Students could find their assignments, links to videos, and more.

Q: What content did teachers have to create to make these virtual learning days successful?
A: We started requiring that teachers build out their courses in Blackboard Learn this year. At a minimum each teacher had to include course information and handouts. However, many teachers have created things like videos, PowerPoints, and  discussion boards.  Some of our in-service tools are being offered virtually using Blackboard Learn. We try to get teachers to use a variety of the tools within Blackboard Learn  like journals, blogs, wikis, and discussion boards. This helps most teachers get started in building out their classrooms.

Q: What were the student and parent responses to these virtual learning days?
A: They have been positive. Some of the students were overloaded on these days since we are still in a learning mode, but parents were glad they didn’t have to change travel plans or vacation days for when they planned to have time off. Teachers were also happy that they didn’t have to make up days at the end of the year.  I think we will get better at balancing the workload with practice.

Q: What advice would you give schools/districts that have yet to implement virtual learning days?
A: Train your teachers. Give them time to prepare so it’s not a shock. Have in-service days devoted to showing teachers how to make a virtual learning day lesson. Give them concrete examples. Be patient and work with them. Provide a lot of one-to-one assistance. Show them how easily it can be done. Always have something in the back of your mind for that season of the year.

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