As the Southern Hemisphere officially begins its influenza season, the CDC is reporting here in the United States that the number of people visiting doctors with flu-like symptoms is increasing and far above normal for this time of year. With the new academic year now in session, the H1N1 flu virus is top of mind as we all think about how to personally stay healthy and school officials think about how to make sure students don’t fall behind in their studies if they are absent from class or they need to close their institutions.
The U.S. Department of Education has released recommendations to schools and universities for how learning can continue in the event of an outbreak, and today Microsoft announced how it will support the administration’s efforts to minimize the impact of H1N1 in our schools. We are offering free technology resources at www.microsoft.com/education/h1n1 that will help educators stay connected with their students. The simplest thing educators can do is set up an online class workspace using Office Live Workspace where you can share assignments, handouts and documents and collaborate on projects anytime, anywhere with just an Internet connection. We’re providing how-to videos, tips and other free technologies teachers can infuse in their classroom content to make lessons more engaging.
The H1N1 pandemic highlights the need for institutions to think more holistically about blended learning environments…that these online and distance learning solutions are valuable not only when you have to respond to classroom outages or school closures, but also creates an opportunity to connect and share information between a student and teacher beyond the classroom all the time. There’s data to suggest this type of learning boosts student outcomes. The U.S. Department of Education and the Sloan Consortium have interesting analysis here and here.
We do offer more robust options for classroom continuity for those institutions looking to rollout blended learning solutions more broadly. As IT managers juggle with the need to expand services and react to potential need for H1N1 virtual learning environments with increasing limited budgets and staff…solutions like Office Live Workspace provide a great option. It’s an easy to implement and FREE solution that is hosted, managed and maintained offsite, yet has the ability to connect with school identity, passwords for single sign-on, etc. School leaders can quickly demonstrate leadership by providing tools to extend learning beyond the classroom and use the H1N1 mandate to increasingly drive the transformation of learning in and out of the classroom.
While the solution is easy to start-up-and-go because it’s connected to Microsoft identity, collaboration and messaging platforms…not only can sign-on and identity be integrated into core school district platforms, but rich messaging options built on Microsoft Exchange can be extended to students and parents for free via Live@edu. Live@edu is being used by schools and universities around the world and provides a suite of communication and collaboration services.
Microsoft also provides a comprehensive set of solutions that make up a very robust distance learning portfolio. We offer everything necessary from real time meeting and communication capabilities to online content management. Using our Unified Communications and Collaboration Platform, offering both on premise and cloud/hosted versions of Exchange, SharePoint and Office Communications Server, schools have a rich and powerful platform on which to offer distance learning solutions.
We are honored to do what we can to support education in this country, and around the world, and look forward to continued partnership with the Department of Education and you to make technology solutions more affordable and accessible.