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

The earthquake in Christchurch was in 2010, and the aftermath is still very visible, although the city now has many, vibrant new spaces.

At the time of the earthquake countless people were impacted personally and professionally, including education organisations. For some, the experience, and the whole 'learning journey' was extremely powerful. Julie Mackey, Philippa Buckley, Des Breeze, Nikki Dabner, and Fiona Gilmore from the University of Canterbury share their story and offer some superb practical suggestions that are relevant for anyone who finds themselves facing life in what has become a 'disaster zone'.

There are contrasting definitions and applications of blended learning, included one that suggests all learning is blended in some way. Blended learning has a 'transformative' potential in a crisis situation, and includes some learning within professional communities. Whatever the definition, when push comes to shove the need to be innovative is paramount, because access to physical resources are limited. Luckily, in the case of the University of Canterbury, 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. Julie comments that "your well-founded plans for blended e-learning are shaken, stirred and re-blended before you have had a chance to 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 initial set up time.

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. Their 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 had the idea of having a book they did. What happened next was really special - the students flooded back in the other direction. The conversations grew, and the students continued writing about texts and asking about books. There was some significant pedagogical growth that occurred within that moment in time.

Some key questions to think about, whether you and your education institution are ready for a crisis situation, 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 media 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?

Image by Andrew Kelsall, Graphic Designer via Flickr

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