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Crisis response in online classeswhen the crisis is not shared by all learnersThe harsh example of Katrina Frank Fuller, PhD Jane Fuller, PhD Karen McFerrin, EdDfullerf@nsula.edu email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org Northwestern State University Natchitoches LA 71457
Crisis response in online classeswhen the crisis is not shared by all learnersThe harsh example of Katrina A reflection from the perspective of two years for the Merlot conference in a recovering New Orleans
All of you are aware of the storm that is ravaging the Gulf coast. As I write this, the worst of it hasn’t hit New Orleans, and even so, things are bad there. I don’t really know how many of our companions in class live in the affected areas, but all of us here, just outside the danger area, have them – you – in our thoughts and prayers. We received a message from our computing center, warning that storm activity in Baton Rouge may disrupt the Internet connection, which means that both class (Black Board) and email are susceptible to disruption at any moment.
As of this writing, all of us Internet teachers are trying to restructure things to begin again after Labor Day. It may be worse than that. Most likely, it won’t be nearly that bad. However, you may suddenly cease hearing from me, or lose contact with your class. But please keep checking, because none of us wants to lose time if it’s possible to avoid it. We will find ways to cast the net widely enough so that those whose lives are disrupted by the storm will be able to catch up, and those whose lives are not, will not be adversely affected by delays. For all of you living in the storm area, and all of you helping with security and rescue, take care of yourself and of each other. We’ll be doing everything we can, here, and eagerly awaiting news of your situation
[Out of a possible four families] one family is coming, my son and daughter-in-law, her mother and three cats. It should be very interesting if the other three families show up … I don’t know about the rest of you but I am so nervous about this storm … I pray we all make it safely and are able to return to our lives. [Student A in northern Louisiana] To which another responded …. Right now I currently am housing 17 family members and four extra animals at my home … and my sister who also lives here in an apartment is housing another 6. Needless to say, we are loaded down … might be kinda fun: a family reunion, if nothing else. So I might be slightly sluggish on the assignments within the next four or five days depending on the outcome of my family’s home. Praying all will survive. [Student B]
If you guys know anyone that still needs shelter, tell them to check into El Dorado AR…We have a local Internet café offering free access and churches offering shelter. Also … a trailer [packed with] donated items such as mattresses, sheets, water, pillows, etc….If anyone wants to speak to me directly, you can reach me …. [Student C] Please do not hesitate to ask for anything extra that might be needed … I have plenty of children’s clothes, etc. I know what it is like … I am housing a few [evacuees] new, and will be housing more from time to time. Hope all is well. God Bless you and your family. [Student D]
The recent Gulf Coast acts of God must be akin to war environments for those affected. You are living and working in a "storm" like we can only imagine-or not. Talking is always a good way to cope and probably restricted in a lot of ways. While you and many like you are there please know that even if we don't talk about the war a lot we are indebted to you and everyone in Iraq. You all are our heroes, serving as you have been asked. While the people endured so much in New Orleans for way too long, you continually endure. May God bless you and keep you safe until your return home. May the many difficulties of your situation be somehow lessened with each passing moment. Besides, you’re getting to learn about adult education, too! [Student E – writing from a point of evacuation]
Helplessness, disbelief, and thoughts for solutions to the tremendous human need were deeply felt during the hurricane and aftermath on the Gulf coast. One of the hardest things to do was to stay in Shreveport and maintain focus on full time school and this final semester during the tremendous need in neighboring New Orleans and Mississippi. [Student F]
When I got to the family home, I could tell that someone had been inside because the garage door was partially opened. My first thought was that looters had broken in, and when I went around to the side French doors, I noticed that one of the panes of glass had been broken and that there had been forced entry…. When I went inside the house, the impact of the devastation really hit me. There was a seven-foot watermark on the walls, and the furniture, antiques, pictures, and family items were a jumbled mess and were in ruin. A musty, humid heaviness hung in the air that made breathing an unpleasant task, but we needed to assess the damage, and we needed to breathe.
We also found this note: "… We lost everything. The whole house went under water. Please forgive us for going into your home. The water was to our roof. We were barely able to swim/float/hold onto trees to get here. It saved our lives. All our pets died. We were in a panic and soaking wet & cold. Thank you - I will repay you. We climbed into our attic and the water was getting close. Had to get out fast. Couldn't get through the roof - car completely under water, etc. Nothing left. But God spared us thru your home. - Praise the Lord. Forgive us, please. It was a last resort. [Signed by five members of a neighbor family]"
We soon realized that all downstairs was a loss--everything! Upstairs, where the bedrooms are, clothes and bedroom items were okay, but we did notice that someone had been there. There were unfamiliar clothes hanging on the doorknob in the kid's bathroom, along with a partially eaten loaf of bread and a large pack of almonds. After finding that note, it brought home the fact that things could have been worse. Most things can be replaced, but people cannot. When they are gone, they're gone, and all we have left are memories. On the brighter side, we were able to rescue the family pet, a 15-pound redfoot tortoise named Bowser. Bowser had weathered the storm in the bathtub of the master bathroom, and I was happy to know that the kids would be glad to see their pet once again…. [Student G]
Instructor response Offer care: Find the students who have been displaced, advise them on options related to reestablishing themselves in class, or making other realistic choices concerning the balance of the term.
Instructor response Establish community: Share storm stories, find links between class participants affected and other members of the class. If there is value in collaborative learning, then the value of sharing, learning, and creating from individuals’ experience will speak to each class member, regardless of their direct involvement in disaster.
Instructor response Define experience: An authentic, shared class will be changed by this kind of experience, so the shared reflection of class members will demand a changed perception from all class members – the teacher first among them. While it is important to define the expectation of the class and expectations for participants in light of the altered experience, it is also important to establish a dependable armature for class expectation.
I suppose that there’s some kind of average that works in these situations. Some of us are unaffected by the storm. Some are affected beyond recovery. Most of us, certainly people like me, here in Natchitoches, return eagerly to the daily routine, vaguely disconcerted by profound distress that we only hear about, but do not truly understand. We’re getting back on track in class. You may notice some new class members, added during the extended registration period. You will certainly notice that some companions are going to find it more difficult to read, post, or respond, since many people, able to do the work of class, do not find it very easy to control the tools that they need, often including text books.
As adult educators, we have an ambiguous relationship with crisis. Anxiety so often provides us with clients, for learning is spurred by intrusive, pernicious novelty (Mezirow calls it a disorienting dilemma). It falls to adult educators, among others, to help affected people to construct meaning from terrible novelty. We will all understand better as our colleagues in these classes find ways to make sense of these past three weeks. As our most affected companions know more, we all will, if we listen, respond, and learn together. Among the Discussion Board sections in class, there is a section called “Storm.” It’s there for reflection, questions, advice (solicited or given), or anything else you want to share. Everyone is invited; no one is required. And now, on to the rest of the term…. [Instructor B]
Understand the role of stereotype. Though the assumptions of any graduate class are generally understood by class members, it is necessary to diminish condign affects of schedule and deadline in the face of overarching obligations of others. Hence, it is important to keep assessment safe. A reeducative environment does not require a complete revelation of class need, and the act of questioning increases anxiety.
Establish teams of learners for mutual support and to diminish individual threat. Conversations between class members in forum settings help; private and off-line conversations or assurances are important to individual members.
Earn and preserve trust. Create an opportunity to share both concern and material support. This not only helps those in need, but minimizes “survivor guilt.” Students must trust, not only for themselves but for each other.
Be clear about unfreezing and refreezing. Once the crisis has peaked, allow class members to establish themselves within a new framework.
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