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Challenges of Teaching Online-Extreme Weather Edition

July 17, 2013

I just came across this insightful article, Overcoming Eight Common Obstacles of Teaching Online. Though the target audience is the new online instructor, there are plenty of ideas related to planning for the unforeseen. Remember, though, that flexibility is the cornerstone of a successful online experience, both for students and instructors.

One example that we had last year was during last year’s Derecho. We were eating dinner out that evening, when my sweetie noticed the sky and pressed me to get the check quickly.  We drove home amidst the fiercest winds I’d ever seen. The winds just did. not. stop. For two hours. We weren’t too surprised to see the lights out at home, but the continued power outage (about eight days exactly) shocked us. A completely unknown storm type had brought us to our knees.

I’d love to say that this preparation meant that we could continue seamlessly with our online courses. However, even though the storm was over in a few hours, the aftermath was as sustained as the winds. The storm was followed by 100-plus degree temperatures for the next week, made worse by the lack of electric. From an online learning standpoint, this extended outage was catastrophic. There was no cable, no power, and, in many cases, no telephone service. Those lucky enough to live to a standing cell tower risked care batteries by using the car charger.

The President cancelled both online and face-to-face classes. But how to communicate with students?

We used a multi-pronged approach. For the lucky ones who had electric, we posted an announcement within the Learning Management System. (I was lucky enough to borrow my sweetie’s work computer for a few minutes…his building didn’t lose power.) We also used our emergency messaging system for telephone and texts.

But in the end? there were people, both students and faculty, who were out of electronic touch, completely. And so we needed to rely on flexibility and understanding of the tough circumstances we were in.

Since the derecho, my syllabi have included severe weather and outage caveats. Basically, we’ll all do what we can to get through it , and we’ll be flexible until then. Not at all a bad way to go.

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