Learning from snow days

snow

Portland isn’t accustomed to snow. This week, light snowfall and freezing roadways led to five consecutive snow days at Catlin Gabel and Beaverton public schools. It’s been different. What have we learned?

Upper school English classes proceeded with business as usual. They already run most of their class activities through Moodle. Only the in-class presentations had to wait. Other classes shifted to independent work or went completely on hold. Seniors applying to colleges continued to manage their materials using Naviance.

When (if?) we return in January, we will likely consider whether to create an online learning plan for extended school closures. Some schools in Seattle and mountain regions have these plans in place. I will want to find out more about their planning process. Most teachers use their course web sites to host some materials — only a few operate their entire classroom process through it. Most teachers would have to learn how to manage an online learning environment and what activities could transition well to the online space.

The IT department successfully stayed home all five days but continued necessary work through our various network services: email, web sites, and SSL-VPN.

The web-based VPN was most critical. Our $500 Sonicwall SSL-VPN appliance requires no client-side configuration, a major step forward in usability and administration from our previous VPN technology. It supports up to seven concurrent users, which has been more than enough for our small user base, since we typically work on campus. Yesterday, our communications team used VPN to send out a large email blast to the community. The alumni office used it to prepare an upcoming communication. I used it to reset two passwords for stranded users.

With everyday business conveniently out of the way, I spent a lot of time on Drupal site configuration. As we consider the platform for our next public-facing web site, I have learned the most from building a prototype. I enjoyed starting anew with a fresh install of Drupal 6. I also installed Plone but haven’t had the chance to open the requisite firewall port to really play with it. At what point does an open-source test become part of the development of the production site? I am at least migrating a lot of content as I go.

Working from home for several days makes me appreciate the in-person contact more than usual. This is why we work at a school — for contact with students, teachers, and staff attempting to create the best educational environment possible. These three weeks should comprise a true break.

Happy holidays to you.

2 comments

  1. Bob Irving says:

    It’s great to hear about your English classes proceeding because they’re all on Moodle. I’ll bring that factoid to my next faculty meeting!

    I hope you continue to blog about your Plone vs Drupal thinking. I’ve fiddled a bit with both and lean towards Drupal at the moment, partly because I think it’s easier to get Drupal programmers than Plone ones!

  2. Richard says:

    We have several Plone developer resources in the region: http://onenw.org, http://seattleplone.org, and http://www.webcollective.coop/