Saudi School tests e-learning Program in case of closure due to H1N1

aisj-school23rd November 2009 JEDDAH: The American International School in Jeddah (AISJ) held a parent information meeting on Saturday regarding its new virtual schooling program that would be put into effect in case of mandatory school closure from the Ministry of Health.

On Monday, the AISJ will implement a test run of their virtual program. Virtual School Day will require students to stay at home and log into their respective virtual platforms. A letter sent home to parents explained that the purpose behind conducting the exercise is to see the effect this would have on the AISJ community and to identify any problems that may need improvement.

“The main purpose behind virtual schooling is to continue to deliver course content to students,” explained Mark English, superintendent for the school.

This uninterrupted education would be done through the Internet and would contain three different virtual platforms, depending whether the student is in elementary, middle or high school.

“It is crucial for the school to have a mechanism in place in case we find ourselves in a situation where attending classes is not an option,” said English.

But with three different platforms, things may be a little difficult.

“I have three children: one in elementary, one in middle school and one in ninth grade,” said a concerned father. “How do you propose a working parent, such as myself, will be able to time manage three different platforms?”

With middle school implementing TeacherWeb and high school using NESA Blackboard, it can seem a little overwhelming, especially for parents who are barely computer literate.

For elementary students, it is even more complicated. The program is a multitiered approach that combines pen and paper packets, the school’s website and consistent communication among parents, students and faculty.

“Elementary is very unique, and we have to think of developmental appropriateness,” said Deborah Caskey, the elementary school principal.

Bradford Barnhardt, middle school principal, said the school is trying its best to simplify access and equip parents and students with the necessary tools for distance learning.

Gil Bruiones, high school principal, stated that it is imperative students are accountable for their work.

“The goal is to provide effective and dynamic collaboration between teachers and students,” he said, asking parents to do everything in their power to ensure 100 percent participation.

Yet as of Sunday, the sixth grade was still unable to use the login passwords provided by the faculty. Both faculty members and parents hope that the trial run will not only allow AISJ to take the necessary measures to tackle any technical issues, but also address the many areas of concern from parents.

Some parents wondered whether any sort of tuition reimbursement would be given if distance learning were to replace classroom learning in the event of a swine flu related closure. Others voiced concern about their ability to handle the academic responsibilities of guiding their children’s education from home.

A teacher mentioned that in her class of 23 students, three to six are absent on any given day from flu-like symptoms. Therefore, the virtual schooling exercise seems less like a precaution and more like an inevitable reality.