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Albert Lea Uses "E-Learning" To Combat Snow Days

January 11, 2018 10:21 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- As schools across the region canceled classes Thursday due to ice and snow, students in Albert Lea had their first encounter with "e-learning," designed to give them a school experience without being in the classroom.

Each class received different assignments to complete from home, ranging from reading and science to watching videos and -- for those in grade school -- a game of bingo with different educational tasks.

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It was the district's first day using the technique, modeled after other schools around the state, Kathy Niebuhr, the director of secondary programs for the district, said. The district began studying how it could work in Albert Lea about a year ago.

"We know that days like this are a struggle for our families," she said. "We know that our families who work are thinking about what their kids are doing at home or at the daycare, and so maybe (this is) an opportunity to say 'Well, here's some things you could be doing.'"

E-learning officially became a substitute for in-class learning when the Legislature last year allowed it to be used in place of up to five days of instruction on days when classes are canceled due to inclement weather, beginning in the 2017-2018 school year. These e-learning days count toward a district's 165-instruction day minimum.

Teachers take attendance based on how much work students complete, Niebuhr said.

Though the name suggests all work is done electronically, it's a bit of a misnomer, she said. Teachers have flexibility to decide what assignments keep students on track with their learning, whether online or not.

The idea has had mixed reviews from parents, with some, like Camille Rasmussen, applauding the effort.

"I think it's a great idea," she said. "This morning my daughter got up, logged on to the laptop, it was easy to navigate through, and she enjoyed all the different courses that were on the e-learning tool."

Rasmussen's daughter, Lilly Hyke, is a sixth grader in the district. Hyke said even though she had work to do on a day that would ordinarily be a day off, she still found time to relax and have fun, completing her assignments in under an hour.

"I had history, science, and I had to look up an orchestra song for orchestra," she said.

Other parents expressed concerns about the structure, especially for students who need extra assistance and who may struggle even with remote support from teachers via phone call or electronic messaging.

"I could see if they had missed three or four days or something prior, and then assign some homework to kind of catch up, I just didn't agree with the first day we've had a snow day kind of just throwing them a bunch of work," said Jacob Christenson who has two children in the district.

He also said kids look forward to the occasional day off to play outside in the snow.

Niebuhr also addressed concerns about lack of technology stopping students from completing their work from home. Each student in grades 6-12 receives a district-issued Chromebook, which they can take home to complete their assignments, she said. For those without a reliable internet connection, the district has 25 wireless hotspots students can check out and take home.

Another benefit, she said, is teaching students how to become self-reliant and self-motivated.

She also highlighted the fact that teachers get paid for 186 days of instruction regardless of whether classes are in session or not, so having teachers available to help students during e-learning days is a benefit to area taxpayers as well.

"Some districts make (teachers) come in and have staff development," Niebuhr said. "We wanted to push out into our families' homes, push out that education into that family environment, that individual student's environment, and just add some creativity to what we do with kids."

With more snow days likely to occur, Niebuhr said the district will solicit feedback from students and parents about the program and how to improve it for the future.


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Logan Reigstad

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