Learning if the lights go out

Chris suggest some steps to help improving resilience of teaching and learning in the face of possible disruption to power this Winter.

Improving resilience of teaching and learning in the face of possible disruption to power

We face the imminent possibility that power supplies will become unreliable over the Winter period. Hot on the heels of one major challenge to teaching and learning in the COVID pandemic, we seem to be faced with another; less terrifying perhaps, but still very serious.

Jisc’s Head of Advice, Steve Bailey has set out some of the most important considerations at an organisational level but very few of a university or college’s operations would be untouched by a loss of power, planned or otherwise. I want to share some thoughts about how to ensure continuity of learning and teaching with unpredictable power supplies.

Every organisation will be different, so these are some general ideas. You should already be setting time aside to plan, whether that is at the whole organization or at the level of individual practice.

We’d value your thoughts and ideas on this, so please add your comments or questions on this post so other colleagues can join the conversation.

Urgent – do now

  • Conduct a review to identify learning and assessment activities most at risk. Ask questions about what essential resources would become unavailable. You can do this at the large or small scale. Look at your choices for mitigation. It doesn’t have to be exhaustive but having a clear picture of what areas are likely to be impacted most and least will help prioritising.
  • Consult with students and staff about what they think the likely impacts will be on their ability to learn or teach. Incorporate this into planning and be transparent. One of the key lessons from the pandemic was not to make assumptions about the effects of crisis on individuals. People’s lives are complex. A collaborative and open approach will help you be more effective and also help allay the fears of staff and students.

Pressing – do soon

  • Develop contingencies for converting some learning activities to asynchronous. It won’t be possible to do this for all aspects of learning and it certainly won’t solve the issue – if the power goes down, even asynchronous learning won’t be possible. The aim is to introduce as much flexibility as possible into your learning design and to reduce your exposure to risk.
  • Support teaching staff to create robust, meaningful and accessible online assessments. Power disruption may impact timetabled exams causing disruption and uncertainty.
  • Support staff to create asynchronous learning activities and materials, especially using supported platforms and software. Simply transferring written materials into shareable formats like PDFs or making PowerPoints available online will plug a gap in an emergency but don’t necessarily create an engaging and effective learning experience. Check out our digital pedagogy toolkit for some ideas.
  • Investigate methods of assessment that students can complete where exact time and location may not be predictable. Professors Sally Brown and Kay Sambell produced a great deal of guidance in the pandemic on alternative forms of assessment which is relevant here.
  • Prepare students and staff for disruption to assessments. Stress and anxiety will be normal if we experience power hardship. Do what you can to take worries about assessment off the table for people. Explain the contingencies you are following and how you will mitigate disruption to exams, project and lab work.

Important – do when you can

  • Make the assumption that this will not be a one-off. What happens if we are faced with it again next Winter or for other reasons? Systemic shocks like this, even if only a possibility, have massive impact despite being comparatively rare. Designing learning to build in resilience and flexibility to disruption can bring general benefits as well as encouraging innovation.
  • Reduce reliance on timed, co-present, high stakes examinations where possible. Jisc has produced guidance on the principles of good assessment and feedback which is worth applying to your situation. There may be some fundamental barriers to moving away from timed exams in some areas but a creative approach to assessment can improve the overall learning experience.
  • Improve staff and student skills in managing online learning. Many organisations have moved forward rapidly in the last few years in terms of staff and student digital capability. This might be a good time to review your strategy’s effectiveness and impact.









By Chris Thomson

I'm a Subject Specialist at Jisc focusing on online learning and digital student experience.

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