Building a Knowledge Domain: Academic Continuity

Building a Knowledge Domain: Academic Continuity

My involvement with the issue of academic continuity stems from participating in the Sloan Semester initiative, launched in response to Hurricanes Katrina (and later Rita), which struck the U.S. Gulf Coast in August 2005. As part of the 'behind-the-scenes' team which provided services on-the-fly to participating students and institutions, I learned firsthand the need to increase awareness of the importance of this issue.

One issue which soon emerged was a disconnect of perspectives among various key stakeholders. Online education practitioners involved in the Sloan Semester initiative tended to focus on providing continuity of teaching and learning, but other key stakeholders were focused on other aspects of this issue. To address this, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation gave a grant to the University of Maryland University College to conduct a workshop designed to bring together for the first time representatives from diverse sectors to discuss academic continuity and its role in the broader context of emergency management and campus resiliency. The goal of the workshop was to create connections between the higher education, government and emergency management communities in order to consider a sustainable process for helping to maintain the continuity of teaching and learning and thereby improve disaster recovery and resiliency.

UMUC contracted with Sener Learning to help coordinate the workshop, which was held in June 2007. Participants attending the workshop included representatives from a variety of sectors and constituencies including the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, National Association of Counties, International Association of Emergency Managers, EDUCAUSE, Southern Regional Education Board, emergency management professionals at the national, regional and state levels, academic institutions from across the country, national education organizations and non-governmental organizations.

The workshop highlighted the need to build a knowledge domain with content that would support the ability of different constituencies to speak a common language relative to this issue. In response, Sener Learning (in conjunction with IDCM Innovations) conducted a major re-design of the Sloan Consortium's Academic Continuity web site in 2008, resulting in greatly improved functionality, content organization, and visual appeal. The web site content clearly describes the relationships between common perspectives on this issue (academic continuity; business continuity; operational continuity; campus safety and security). The web site also compiled a number of related content resources, including a collection of material, discussion, and interviews related to the H1N1 virus and pandemic in spring 2009.

As a representative of Sloan-C, since 2009 I also have served on the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Innovative Technologies Institute's Standards Committee which is developing "A Risk Analysis Standard for Natural and Man-Made Hazards to Higher Education Institutions (currently in draft form).

Although such efforts to plan for these eventualities will continue, the reality is that the issue of academic continuity is a Black Swan-in-Waiting -- the issue tends to go dormant until the next disaster strikes. When the next major disaster strikes (and it will, sooner or later), the web site will be available as a resource to help practitioners deal with the consequences and plan to deal more effectively with the next one.