I have been thinking about two key issues which I would like to expand on further. The ebola situation so close to home here in the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex, where I live, has got me thinking about two education and literacy issues in our larger community. These are questions that I would like to look into for my own peace of mind as well as for the knowledge of our broader community. Both of these themes concern questions about educational infrastructure as it intersects with current health issues in the DFW Metroplex and potentially elsewhere.
1) Health Literacy and Access to Information. What is the “health literacy” situation here in the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex? Potentially, if there were (and there really is) a situation that required dissemination of crucial health information to the general public on potentially life-threatening topics, can people read, understand, and comprehend this via print text and/or digital media? Is this information readily available in the many languages spoken in the Metroplex? What are the consequences when it is assumed people read print literacies to get health information? Also, what about undocumented residents who are afraid to ask questions or seek further information?
2) Education during times of Quarantine or Health Threat. For instances of quarantine, what digital and educational infrastructures (both formally and informally) are available across the local school districts for home-bound schooling scenarios? I know that there are currently structures in place across the school districts for home-bound learning and I would like to learn more about what they are. I remember when the H1N1 virus hit and there was talk of shutting down schools for periods of time. Also, some parents are choosing to keep their children at home, regardless of risk. What types of learning scenarios take place in these instances where people choose to isolate themselves out of fear?
The second question connects to my own work as a teacher educator and has to do with capacity building amongst future educators. My question is: Are PK-12 educators ready and capable to teach via distance scenarios as they arise? Also, on the other side of that home-school connection, what is required on the home front with home-bound teaching from families? What do families “do” on the education front when they or someone else is home-bound? Although I realize there may be answers to these two broad questions I pose, I think the answers are trickier when dealing with some complex health scenarios and are especially trickier when thinking about them at a potentially larger scale as was the case when the H1N1 virus threatened several years ago. It would be good for all of us in the community, and especially those of us connected to education (whether as teachers, teacher educators, or parents/families) to know the answers to these questions.
My own view on distance education has always been that preparation and planning is key to implementation. That is, having the skill set to teach online and via distance is crucial, even if one is currently not doing so. Perhaps this viewpoint come from having grown up in my formative years in Alaska where I learned that planning and preparation were key skills to have not just personally but collectively as part of our geographic landscape and location. I have found little research on the role of parents and families in distance and virtual learning scenarios. There is a need to better understand the role of educator and family in distance learning. I hope we can address these topics in the short-term and long term. If we don’t plan for scenarios, we face situations in crisis mode rather than methodically thinking out the infrastructure and training (e.g., in distance education) that is needed ahead of time.