Saint Mary's engages in first Virtual Learning Day of 2018
Mary Virginia Swain '77C

Saint Mary's School conducted its first virtual learning day of the year, Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, following an overnight snowfall that was part of the winter storm impacting the entire East Coast.

Saint Mary's is pleased to have been among the first schools in the state to pioneer a growing nationwide practice of offering virtual learning days in lieu of traditional "snow days." Saint Mary's is in its fourth winter of offering virtual learning days, which has become a model for other independent schools in North Carolina.

Saint Mary's School believes that it is imperative that, if possible, weather does not interrupt the important learning that happens during the school year.

The school is fortunate to be able to use virtual learning as a tool to support the students' ongoing academic efforts and ensure their continued success.

"I think that virtual learning days are brilliant," says Dean of Teaching and Learning Leslie Owen. "Through the use of Canvas, our learning management system, we can now worry less about days where we can't meet our girls face to face. In the winter when inclement weather is a reality, learning doesn't have to be interrupted. Learning moves forward in a virtual environment. In their future post-secondary experience, our girls will undoubtedly take online courses. The VLD is our opportunity to give them a taste of what it is like to learn in that environment."

Saint Mary's experimented with its first ever virtual learning day during the winter of 2015 and, with the students' hard work and the teachers' thoughtful efforts, it was a resounding success.

Normally when school closes on a snow day, learning is interrupted, and the rhythm of the school year is fragmented. The negative impact can be felt for several days after the weather clears as students and teachers scramble to regain momentum. Saint Mary's also believes this type of work is good preparation for our students for college, since research tells us that most students will take at least one online course as part of their college education.

Another significant benefit of virtual learning days is that a school day is not lost, avoiding the need for make-up days and disruption of the school calendar, and preserving scheduled breaks, weekends, and holidays for the remainder of the year.

On a virtual learning day, students receive assignments from their teachers online that need to be completed and turned in electronically by the stated deadlines. Boarding students have study conditions during the day in their dorm rooms and may work in Kenan Library or numerous lounges around campus. Day students work from home, safely avoiding dangerous driving conditions. Teachers have virtual office hours during the school day so students can reach them by email. There are also designated times during which teachers can be available in live chat rooms.

Saint Mary's one-to-one convertible tablet program, which equips all students and teachers with a tablet computer, and 24/7 wireless networked campus, allows students to use the latest technology to learn in and out of the classroom and make a virtual learning day a viable educational experience.