University Searches for Solutions to Snow Days

With only about five weeks remaining in the spring 2014 semester, many people, including myself, are wondering how Shepherd University will make up the multiple class cancellations due to the abundance of snow and winter weather in recent months. With our spring recess in April already cancelled, two days of work can be made up. However, many students have already made plans and scheduled a vacation during this time.

I have learned that several professors have decided to still not hold class on those days. There have been at least six snow days and that is not counting days when campus has opened late.

As the winter subsides and the semester draws closer to an end, the university must quickly make decisions regarding how and when the multiple weather-related class cancellations will be made up. University leaders are now tasked with balancing the needs of every teacher, student, and staff member around campus when determining how they will alter the semester schedule.

If a teacher tries to make up for missed classes by teaching an overwhelming amount of content at once, students will probably be upset and lose focus. However, at the same time, there is the threat of upsetting teachers because their syllabus has to be dissected and changed.

Making up these snow days presents a difficult problem for the university to solve. However, let me be clear, when there is a considerable amount of winter weather in the area and conditions outside are possibly dangerous for students to walk or drive in, school officials are left with a tough decision: deciding whether it is safe enough for students and staff to make their way to school or whether classes should be cancelled.

This is a critical decision since the university must ensure the safety of staff and students. If their safety is threatened by weather, classes have to be delayed or cancelled despite the repercussions to the semester schedule.

Only a relatively small amount of students actually live on campus while many must commute from various parts of the region including places such as Martinsburg, Inwood, Charles Town, Frederick, or even Leesburg. When determining whether to cancel or delay class, university officials must also consider the commuters driving to Shepherd, often on two-lane secondary roads, from all these different parts of the region.

Mahaley Beaty, a junior at Shepherd majoring in elementary education, had an interesting take on the issue and stated, “The missed days made everything more confusing because your professors cannot explain everything to you because you weren’t physically there but still expected you to do those assignments and the current ones. Then they get upset because you didn’t understand something. It’s unfair.”

My teachers have been fair to me by not immediately assigning multiple lessons. However, they are getting the unfair treatment by having to completely change their syllabus around, including trying to manage all the chaos that comes with adding or deleting certain assignments.

Let’s not even begin to think about the “catastrophic” events that will be caused if Shepherd tries to shorten summer. I’m thinking riots, picketing, and maybe even an unfavorable message in the Journal Junction. That’s just in regards to the students. If you ask any of the professors, they will almost always say they need their summers. As far as Shepherd actually trying to shorten our summers, I find that impossible. Everyone has already paid for their tuition and adding more classes would mess up this semester as well as next semester as all of the classes are set on a track.

Freshman Joseph Smith said, “Our last day has already been set – May 2. It will be really chaotic and unfair if they try and elongate the semester past that. Some people will be able to come the extra days and some won’t.”

A tool that we are not using at its maximum capacity and could possibly compensate for cancelled classes over the semester is Sakai. Sakai can be so much more than a dreadful thing that I and many others spend multiple hours contemplating whether or not to check. Some teachers are putting their faith in the tool by posting things such as blogs or podcasts that relate to the topic their students had missed. The students then listen or read the post and after they can relay their input on the topic somehow, whether it is in the form of a written paper or a discussion.

There is actually a forum page and a wiki for each class in Sakai where students can comment on the class and have an online discussion about topics. It would be great if a teacher could post a podcast of sorts, have the students get on the forum page, and write their opinion on it for some points. It would not be a massive assignment by any means; it could only take from 15 to 30 minutes. This way, the missed days can be made up outside of class and regular classes can still focus on the lessons that are scheduled.

These snow days are definitely a problem. Three of my classes (Media Law, Biology, and Radio Practicum) have had to drastically change their entire schedules around to try and cope with the missed days we have had. Many assignments have been either canceled or shortened. Some of those assignments canceled were going to be substantial parts of my grade.

This is not public school; we are paying for these classes out of our own pocket, so we should definitely be getting our money’s worth.

Other possible solutions for this snowy problem include students coming to school more than they would like to. Whether it be coming to school over the weekend or cramming everything into one class, those are both likely to cause stress for students and their professors. One thing is definitely certain: this semester has been the easiest during my time here at Shepherd, but that probably means it was the least beneficial.

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