Pandemic flu, school closing and community learning

With President Obama preparing parents that the current pandemic flu may close schools and the Centers for Disease Control’s Guidance for Nonpharmaceutical Community Mitigation providing guidelines for school closure, it seems worthwhile to revisit my April 2007 analysis of how a university might respond. (Update May 1, CDC Flu Infection Alert for Institutions of Higher Education — basic message, review your preparedness, and points to state preparedness plans, ca 2006. WA ID.)

1918-19 Flu Pandemic deaths. Gives an idea how long a school closure might be. Modern medicine might change the duration of the event.

1918-19 Flu Pandemic deaths (from CDC report). This graph gives an idea how long a school closure might be, this report on the event is WA state mentions school closure. Modern medicine might change the duration of the event.

The challenge for schools is the amount of time they may be closed and the amount of warning they may have before the closure. Two years ago when I speculated on the problem, my University was considering the implications of refunding tuition from a closure, and planning how it would use its Distance Degree Program to transfer all the university courses online.

That analysis was clearly flawed. Even if the university had started converting 1000’s of courses when the first flu case was reported in the middle of April 2009, on speculation of pandemic, it would not be ready by the end of April when the President is beginning to prepare parents for school closings, and the first American has died. Content-based courses delivered in Course Management Systems can not address this problem — they don’t scale fast enough and they are subject to multiple single points of failure. (paragraph updated 5/1)

Something more like my course packet for a pandemic is needed. And a strategy that uses multiple and dispersed online resources is needed to avoid single points of failure. One single-point failure that I did not examine in those previous posts is the death of the instructor. In traditional models, this presents a significant problem for assigning grades after school resumes. WSUCTLT has been pointing to a solution — new faculty roles and scalable community-based assessment (see the link:Updated Learning Spectrum self-assessment) Here WSUCTLT is examining the difference from the traditional model (which could not be moved online fast enough) and a community-based model that is inherently redundant and avoids single points of failure. In this model, if the school were to resume and the faculty member not return, one could credential the student (at least Pass/Fail) based on assessments provided by the community. What would be necessary is coaching in the course packet for the community to use in giving feedback, using something like WSU’s critical and integrative thinking rubric.