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CUNY Closed versus Academic Continuity: An Institutional Choice– republished from 10/2012

Note: This post, published about 7.5 years ago, followed- up on my Academic Continuity post earlier that year. It reflects on a major snow event which crippled learning at CUNY for several days. I proposed that online learning could prove effective in this and other emergencies, and that the chief mission of CUNY, academics, could continue despite such challenges.

The post below is unedited from the original version.

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The current weather-related closing of all CUNY campuses for several days this week offers a case study in emergency preparedness or lack thereof. In bold red letters, many campus websites proclaim:

All (CUNY College of choice) Classes and Activities Cancelled Monday, Oct. 29, Tuesday, Oct. 30, Wednesday, Oct. 31, and Thursday, Nov. 1

Such emergency notifications on college websites represent a significant improvement over the previous policy of recorded telephone messages.  However, the message is clear; the storm has hit, so the college is closed.  Everyone can rejoice in a job well done; clear communication and a few days off from school or work. However, I’m not everyone.  I believe this crisis could have been better addressed if the university had a clear vision, policy, and procedures for ongoing teaching/learning during this storm and other emergencies.

Imagine, if you would, this message on campus websites . . .

Teaching and Learning Continue at all CUNY Campuses.

Despite College Facilities being Closed from Monday, Oct. 29, through Thursday, Nov. 1, Classes will Continue to be Held Online.
See link for more details . . .

The link would provide information on how students can continue their studies via Blackboard and/or other tools used to deliver course content, submit assignments and interact with the class. An instructor may even schedule an ad-hoc webinar during hours normally reserved for that class or in the evening. In other words, the primary purpose of the college — teaching and learning — will continue despite the crisis at hand. This concept is called “academic continuity” and has been included as part of emergency planning in those higher education institutions with vision and leadership in this area.

In my blog post earlier this year entitled, ” Online and Emergency Planing,” I discuss an important article (see reference below) that explores the need to include academic continuity in an emergency plan. It is ironic that the emergency preparedness policies that colleges typically promulgate consider every contingency except the one that is most important, namely, how teaching and learning will continue to be conducted despite the emergency at hand. In my estimation, this shows a significant lack of imagination and understanding of how to manage such events by CUNY.  Does teaching and learning stop dead in its tracks because a storm blows through, or can we plan for these eventualities and make faculty responsible for the maintenance of teaching in such circumstances? I believe we can establish reasonable academic continuity policies, especially considering that all CUNY matriculated courses automatically have a Blackboard course shell assigned. Professors can be apprised of this fact, and be given succinct instructions on how to access the class, post materials, send emails and conduct the class using several fairly basic technologies.

In my previous blog post I offered several recommendations for creating a worthwhile emergency plan within CUNY – or any university – that addresses the issue of academic continuity by:

  1. An accessible website about emergency planning and preparedness.
  2. A clear statement that after concerns of safety have been addressed, the University affirms that academic continuity is a second priority in times of crisis.
  3. A clear explanation to the CUNY community how faculty, staff and students can restore academic continuity.
  4. A new training program to be initiated for all CUNY faculty which shows how online learning might be utilized to restore academics in case of an emergency.
  5. A recommended “in case of emergency” section in syllabi for all CUNY courses.
  6. A plan and procedure for staff/administrators/faculty to meet and collaborate during the period that campuses are closed (e.g., administrative continuity plan).

These procedures will require planning, program design and implementation, publicity and a modicum of resources to implement. If CUNY administrators, faculty and other stakeholders are serious about the mission of this institution, I believe it is imperative to include a well-designed section on academic continuity in our emergency plans. In light of the cost and disruption of this emergency — essentially suspending classes for the duration of a week — there is an opportunity for some reflection and possibly action —  taken to ensure such plans in the future. With such planning in place, it is possible that the next emergency may again close our campuses,  yet keep open the educational process for our students.

References:

Benton, T. H. (2009, November 30). “Teaching in the Plague Year,” The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Teaching-in-the-Plague-Year/49275.  (An excellent article about  the H1N1 epidemic and higher education’s disaster preparedness.)

Meyer, Katrina & Wilson, Jeffery (2011). “The Role of Online Learning In the Emergency Plans of Flagship Institutions,” Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume IV, Number I, Spring 2011, University of West Georgia, Distance Education Center. Retrieved from: http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring141/meyer_wilson141.html
(A paper exploring the need for an academic continuity policy in emergency planning)

Rosenbloom, Bruce (February 16, 2012), “Online and Emergency Planning,” CUNY Academic Commons. Retrieved from:  https://onlinelearning.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2012/02/28/online-and-emergency-planning

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