Wednesday, December 02, 2009


Delayed Openings

We're heading into snow season again. That means we'll probably have another round of snow day decisions to make.

Luckily, I don't make that call personally. I don't envy the poor soul who does.

Snow days aren't so bad. If the college simply closes for the day, then that's that. It creates some issues with missed material and makeup classes, and it's a &*#$@! nightmare if it happens during final exams, but otherwise, it's manageable.

Delayed openings are far worse.

The idea behind a delayed opening is to give the road crews some time to plow, and to give the storm time to die down or blow over. When the worst is over by the morning rush hour, there's a superficial argument for opening around, say, ten.

But it never really works out right.

First, of course, there are the students and employees who have school-aged children. Typically, if a storm is bad enough to cause a delayed opening at the college, it's bad enough to cause closures at many of the local school districts. That means that substantial numbers of parents are effectively forced to stay home. The resulting absenteeism creates weird inequities. Students who brave the snow anyway are often upset to discover that their professors didn't come in. Professors who did come in might have half their students out, making certain class activities (group work, say) impossible, and others (exams, introduction of new material) problematic.

Then there are the extended hands-on classes. If you have a three-hour chemistry lab, and the college is closed for the first hour or two, you may not be able to get anything meaningful done in the remaining time. Lab and studio classes, and their variants, are often all-or-nothing propositions. A lecture or discussion can be truncated on short notice, depending on the agility of the instructor. But a chemical reaction takes the time it takes.
Miss too much, and you've missed it all.

When you have multi-section lab classes, and the early morning sections fall a week (or two) behind the other ones, the logistical demands on the lab assistants become fearsome. In many cases, the only way to keep the labs humming along is to keep everything in sync. Get something out of sequence, and it gets ugly.

For students who bunch their classes early in the day, there's often the very real dilemma of whether it's worth doing battle with the road conditions on the off chance of the last hour of class actually meeting. I admire the ones who tough it out, and feel bad for them when the professor either couldn't make it in, or substituted a placeholder activity for the substantive class because of time and attendance issues.

This year I'm hoping every day is either on or off. Those in-betweens are just no fun at all.

My community college found an elegant and effective solution to this problem: It had the good sense to be located in Arizona. The cold months meant that some people had to break out the long sleeves.

I suggest you relocate your institution brick by brick to a place with more civilized weather.
I agree with Lance. I'm in Florida and these problems are just funny. People say they "hate the heat" but I'd rather try to drive in hot weather than try to drive in snow/ice. Stay warm people!!!!
I live and work in a place with similar snow/ice situations. One thing I've tried to do is get all of my students familiar with the chat system in our CMS -- there's even a format now with a group whiteboard.

Even if we can't replicate the classroom experience, it's enough to be able to run, say, a brief discussion session and lay out some expectations for the rest of their alternate work. No help for lab-based classes, obviously, or exams that have to be rescheduled.
Do your administrators ever do the late-afternoon closing? On several occasions we have started in the morning only to wave off classes after 3.30 or after 5 or 6 pm, depending on changing conditions during the day. That inconveniences people who have come in only to have to contend with the effects of the changed conditions, and the presence of Illinois drivers, to go home.
How does your college in Florida deal with hurricane warnings? Have you ever canceled class only to have the storm go somewhere else? Or stayed open and had students from an affected area be unable to attend class?
My own personal favorite is when the storm hits later in the we stay open for our noght classes, or cancel them? And how do we inform students that classes beginning after time X are cancelled (because they are often at work...)? And how do people already at work get home safely?

I admit there's not much one can do about this, but it's a major league pain.
My community college once had the school open early in the morning, then decided to close it temporarily due to snow problems. So everyone had to leave campus (which wasn't great since it wound up with everyone trying to leave campus all at once -- real fun in the parking lot!), and classes resumed later in the day.

I wasn't on campus when that happened, but I heard all about it from fellow students!
I just received the an updated snow closing policy today from my college. Students get very angry when they wait around all day and most of the professors do not show up and do not contact them beforehand. I use email to inform them if I can not make it to class. My college is great at updating closings on the website.

I am preparing for closings this year; the farmer's almanac is predicting a bad winter. Many colleges were preparing to use online systems in case of swine flu outbreaks, so why not use it for snow closings?
I left your neck of the woods recently for warmer climate. I must say, I will not miss the snow season and I look forward to my campus closing when there is an inch of snow. :)
One aspect that has not been mentioned yet is that some of our courses taught at CC are 3 hours one evening each week or 1.5 hours 2 evenings per week. Thus, with losing a Monday class to MLK and and 2 straight Mondays due to cold weather and/or snow I didn't meet with me evening Intro Physics class for the first 3 weeks. Many administrators mentioned that I should just create web-based lectures and assignments for the missed classes but with a course like Physics I think we need the direct human interaction to help get problem solving skills developed. At an open enrollment school it does not seem feasible with a math based science course to try to leave it up to the students to try to get up to speed on their own. This could also easily be extended to language classes.
I think all or nothing. Anything else is a clusterfukk.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?