College Prepared to Go Online When Disaster Strikes

Totally Online, by Jim ShimabukuroThe title of this press release caught my eye: “Ancilla College Ready to Go Completely Online as Part of Emergency Preparedness Plan”[1]. In case of emergency, the college can break the glass and press the red button that says “Campus closed. We’re now completely online.”

Ancilla is in Donaldson, Indiana, about 90 miles southeast of Chicago, and the college has hired The Learning House, Inc., to develop OPEN, which is an acronym for online preparation for emergency needs.

With OPEN in place, the college is now prepared for anything and everything that spells disaster, including flu pandemics, snow storms, floods, hurricanes, and heavy rains. Officials can now shut down the campus without worrying about disruption in learning. Like an emergency generator, all the classes shift into online mode and continue with learning as usual.

What happens if the campus shutdown lasts for months? Not a problem. From the moment OPEN, the emergency backup system, kicks in, it can function until a couple of weeks after the official end of term.

The heart of the OPEN system is Moodle, or modular object-oriented dynamic learning environment. It’s open-source and free, and it serves as a CMS, or course management system — aka as a learning software platform, LMS (learning management system), or VLE (virtual learning environment).

University of Iowa - building on campus flooded

Faculty “pre-load” what are called Moodle “course shells” with all the stuff that’s associated with learning, such as lessons, schedules, readings, lectures, assignments, activities, discussions, resources, etc.

Students, instead of reporting to their classrooms on campus, use their computers and internet connections from home or other locations to log in to the online counterparts of their classes and continue their education.

Interestingly, nowhere in this article does the writer say, directly or indirectly, that the online classes are in any way inferior to F2F (face-to-face) classes. The implication is that nothing in the way of quality is lost, and students continue to receive an effective education.

Don’t get me wrong. No one, including me, wants to see Ancilla shut down by a disaster. However, suppose it does happen in the first week of instruction and extends to a week after the last day of instruction, and suppose learning continues completely online without disruption and student achievement and satisfaction with the online classes are neither more nor less than with F2F classrooms.

Would the college pour millions into reconstructing the F2F campus and continue with business as usual, returning to the classroom-based model of learning and abandoning the online model until the next disaster strikes? Or would it pause to take stock of online learning as a viable alternative?

My guess is that it might take a disaster of this magnitude to change the way colleges view totally online classes. And once they do, they’ll never return to the mindset that classrooms are the only way to teach effectively.

BTW, this article is the first for this column, “Totally Online,” and in coming weeks and months, I’ll be publishing others that touch on the subject of completely online instruction. Other editors and writers are also debuting their columns this week in ETC: Jessica Knott, “ETC, Twitter and Me,” and John Adsit, “Meeting the Needs.”

One Response

  1. Education never stop in any disaster strikes. Doing lecture online is one of the solution to face those condition i guess.

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