WASHINGTON – September 30, 2009 – At George Washington University (GW) in Washington, D.C., e-learning has long been a central part of the school’s plan for education continuity. Prompted by concerns over the H1N1 flu, GW officials have now stepped up preparedness efforts – much like their counterparts at schools and universities nationwide – according to Blackboard Inc. (Nasdaq: BBBB), a global leader in education technology.
Having already set minimum e-learning competency standards for faculty and staff, GW has now launched a series of workshops in partnership with Blackboard consultants to give staff the chance to gain more confidence in the key areas of holding classes online: posting course materials, creating assignments and using communication tools like discussion boards and forums.
“The Blackboard platform is a core component of our academic continuity preparedness plan, which makes sense since so many use it on a daily basis,” said Yordanos Baharu, Director of GW’s Instructional Technology Lab. “Part of what we’re doing in training is getting faculty to think about Plan B. With this plan, we’re confident that we can mitigate potential disruptions and provide students and faculty the support they need to continue teaching with Blackboard’s system.”
“Across our community of practice, we’re seeing a great deal of work to leverage e-learning and mass notification technologies in response to H1N1,” said Michael Chasen, President and CEO of Blackboard. “But much of that work is not new, nor is it limited to H1N1. In many cases, it builds on efforts by school and university officials to develop broader preparedness and continuity plans that center on key technologies that already touch students, staff and parents every day.”
Earlier this year, officials at Clear Creek Independent School District near Houston, Texas communicated regular updates on H1N1 to students, parents and staff using the Blackboard Connect™ mass notification technology. The outreach helped to prevent the spread of false information and assured the school community that no cases of H1N1 had been reported.
“To be able to reach 37,000 students and their families in a matter of minutes – in our superintendent’s own voice – is a very powerful capability,” said Chad Stevens, Chief Technology Officer at Clear Creek. “That would have been impossible before. Now we know that if something happens we can get the right information out and keep our customers at ease. We put a lot of systems in place to communicate and keep students caught up, and Blackboard Connect and Blackboard Learn™ are a big part of that.”
Clear Creek officials have also applied lessons learned during hurricanes to the present concern over H1N1. Last year, when Hurricane Ike shut down the district for nearly two weeks, teachers and students leveraged online learning to avoid missing academic targets for the year thanks to the ability to communicate and complete assignments even while school buildings were closed.
“We would not have reached all of our academic goals without hard working teachers who were able to use Blackboard technology to do more work in less time,” said Stevens. “Going forward, we know we can keep kids from falling behind despite absenteeism we may see due to H1N1 or other issues. We can continue the business of education without interruption.”
Across the globe, universities in Asia have used Blackboard technology for years to enable schools and universities to deal with pandemic situations. In response to the SARS and Avian influenza outbreaks, Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) launched a preparedness program in 2005 that includes closing segments of its 35,000 student campus for one week at a time each year to help faculty and students be better prepared for what might happen during a real emergency.
During “E-Learning Week,” instructors communicate lesson plans that enable students to interact online, complete assignments and tests and follow video lectures. Progress is monitored by faculty and university officials, and in addition to supporting uninterrupted academic work, the plan can help prevent the spread of infection or illness by limiting physical contact or proximity.
“With pandemic events it’s not if, but when,” said Daniel Tan, Director of the Centre for Educational Development at NTU. “What we’re trying to achieve is learning continuity. Our plan allows university officials to close the campus with a high level of confidence that education operations can continue successfully online. We’re more prepared each time we do it, and we can make the transition without panic, ensuring a comfortable and routine change of learning mode.”
According to Tan, NTU’s E-Learning Week initiative helps go beyond preparedness to promote the general use of technology in teaching and learning. Students have responded positively to the ability afforded them by online learning to work independently and at their own pace, prompting some to call for the program to expand to cover additional weeks, or even months.
About Blackboard Inc.
Blackboard Inc. (NASDAQ: BBBB) is a global leader in enterprise technology and innovative solutions that improve the experience of millions of students and learners around the world every day. Blackboard’s solutions allow thousands of higher education, K-12, professional, corporate, and government organizations to extend teaching and learning online, facilitate campus commerce and security, and communicate more effectively with their communities. Founded in 1997, Blackboard is headquartered in Washington, D.C., with offices in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.
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