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Colleges use the Internet to ruin snow days

Jenna Johnson

Last week college students in the Washington area got as many as six snow days (Here's a snow day score card) as two epic, historic storms dumped more than two feet of snow on the region. But thanks to the wonders of modern technology, they weren't really snow days -- and several schools are boasting that students haven't fallen behind that much.

In several cases, school officials say they simply enacted plans that were created in the fall when everyone worried swine flu could close colleges for weeks. Many universities already use Blackboard, a course management system that allows students to view grades, turn in homework, communicate with professors, receive assignments and engage in discussions. But some professors got creative and utilized Twitter, Google Chat and Facebook.

(The same day-off-ruining phenomenon is also happening in high schools, The Post's Maryland schools reporter Michael Birnbaum reported.)

Georgetown University set up a Web site with tips on how professors could reach out to students, even though classes were canceled. The site includes a bragging page where faculty members can detail how they successfully thwarted Mother Nature.

The Rev. Matthew Carnes invited his GOVT 386 class to his residence on campus for pizza and discussion, and three students joined in using video feeds on Skype and Gchat. "We kept an eye out for when the videochat students would wave their hand to weigh-in on an issue," he wrote. English professor Margaret Debelius boasted that all 20 students who attended her virtual classroom jumped into the discussion, which doesn't always happen in real life. And the American Studies senior seminar continued to use Twitter as an "asynchronous virtual classroom."

At American University, journalism students learned an important lesson: Reporters and editors don't get snow days (it's true).

On Wednesday a group of graduate students just rallied together online to produce that week's edition of the American Observer, an online magazine. Students worked from home, communicated through Twitter and shared documents through Google. The students could keep an eye on their professor, David Johnson, who set up a Web camera in his home office (there were occasional guest appearances by his wife and "crazy kids.")

Other American communications class also moved online: A news media history class answered questions about muckraking in a Blackboard discussion. Visual literacy students had to turn in homework via blog or e-mail. Two other classes met in real-time online using a program called Wimba, which the university purchased in the fall. A political communication class held an online round-table discussion that racked up more than 80 posts. And Professor Angie Chuang held office hours on GoogleTalk.

Despite the snow, 13 graduate students at American's Kogod School of Business used Skype to talk with a doctor in Iraq who is planning to build a medical lab that will offer blood testing, mammograms, education programs and hydration treatment for burn victims. Based on that 90-minute conversation, the students will develop a business plan and find funding for the lab.

What about you? How did your professors use the Internet to ruin your snow days? Shoot me an email or leave a comment below.

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By Jenna Johnson  |  February 15, 2010; 2:09 PM ET
Categories:  Networking  | Tags: American, Georgetown  
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Please don't forget that Virginia's largest college is your backyard: Northern Virginia Community College. The faculty there used Blackboard and other methods of communication to keep classes running too. My students today were more upset about professors who give assignments over spring break than during this snow break.

Posted by: drl97 | February 15, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse

yes technology has changed everything in the learning industry .i think a physical presence in the school is not anymore important.I m taking courses online for my master and it is really the same .

it can also help a lot disabled people or sick people that can't leave hospital to continue their education .

Posted by: jeanbarre | February 20, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

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