Thursday, October 20, 2011

Innovate to survive: being prepared to teach in times of crisis

hi vis vest 7Image by Andrew Kelsall, Graphic Designer via FlickrI felt this was a a presentation from the heart, with some superb practical suggestions! The experience, and the whole 'learning journey' of the teaching team was extremely powerful. In the presentation, Julie Mackey, Philippa Buckley, Des Breeze, Nikki Dabner, and Fiona Gilmore spoke about teaching in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes. "your well-founded plans for blended e-learning are shaken, stirred and re-blended before you have had a change teach your first lesson!" Julie was 10 minutes away from her first session in the computer lab when the first earthquake happened, so they didn't have the intial set up time.

There are contrasting definitions and applications of blended learing, included that all learning is blended in some way. Blended learning has a 'transformative' potential in a crisis situation, and included some learning within a professional community. The presenters advised that they were encouraged to be innovative, as access to physical resources were limited. Luckily, the server rooms were still operational (they are not completely based in the cloud yet). The only resources available were those that were already online, and each other.
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 18:  Austral...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The context was such that many people were living in pretty dire conditions. "You know you are from Christchurch when you live in one suburb, shower in another, get water from yet another, and yet you still greet people with a smile as if they were long lost friends". All this was going on while they were still thinking about how to engage with students who were not particularly well-prepared to participate in a blended course.
Earthquake severityImage via Wikipedia

There were no buildings to meet in, but the team began to feel confident that they could facilitate the course with "a bit of style" in spite of the crisis situation. The whole way of working had changed. It was necessary to clear an emotional space before sitting together in the house that was still standing and had electricity, and the talk began and escalated. Someone (diffident) had the idea of having a book they did. What happened next was really special - the students flooded back in the other direaction. The conversations grew, and the students continued writing about texts and asking about books. There was some significant pedagogical growth that occured within that moment in time.

Some key questions to think about: whether you and your education institution are ready include:
  1. How well prepared is your institution to function electrocially with off-site back-up, cloud computing etc?
  2. How would you contact and communitcate with students if your campus was closed suddenly?
  3. How would you collaborate with colleagues to plan and teach from geographically separate loactions (for example using LMS, remote IT access, cloude computing)?
  4. How well do you and your colleagues understand the capabilities of your LMS and the potential use of other digital technologies including social meida to enhance and support learners and their learning?
  5. How open and well-prepared are you and your colleagues to use blended or online learning pedagogies?

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