We’ve heard the about the tragic cost of Hurricane Harvey in terms of both dollars and human life. All told, Harvey dumped 33 trillion gallons of water in the United States. According to the folks at NASA, the sheer weight of the storm was enough to bend the earth’s crust and pushed Houston down about two centimeters.
Higher education was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey as well. Schools in Houston, Austin and surrounding areas suffered heavy damage. Thousands of students are from counties that were declared disaster areas. Even students living in areas spared by the storm were unable to get to class. As of this writing, schools in the Southeast are suffering the same fate due to Hurricane Irma as nearly 7 million residents in the region were warned to leave.
Although hurricanes, floods and other disasters can be extremely disruptive, colleges and universities with a robust learning management system (LMS) in place are typically better prepared to weather the storm. LMS software is used by higher education institutions to plan and implement a learning curriculum or program, create and deliver course materials, track student participation, and assess performance.
Although features vary among the hundreds of LMS solutions on the market today, most systems share a number of core components. An LMS has a customizable registration function to automate and control enrollment. A student roster is used to track attendance and share content with students, while a course calendar provides information about assignments, deadlines, tests and other coursework. Users can access the LMS and upload and manage documents from any desktop or mobile device. An LMS also uses video conferencing, discussion boards and messaging to support real-time communication between educators and students. Instructors use grading and scoring tools to track and assess student performance.
An LMS allows any student to participate in an online course, regardless of location, which is especially valuable for adult learners who are juggling work and family obligations. It also enables off-campus collaboration and engagement for traditional, in-class courses. An LMS provides educators with more flexibility in creating and delivering educational content and makes it easier to reuse and update learning materials. Because all student activity and work is stored in the LMS, assessing student performance is simpler and more transparent.
LMS capabilities also make colleges and universities more resilient when disaster strikes. Even if school facilities are shut down or it becomes physically impossible to get to campus, students and educators can interact via the LMS. In-class programs can be moved online, either temporarily or for the rest of the semester. Because most of today’s LMS solutions are cloud-based, and students can access LMS content via Wi-Fi or cellular networks, it’s hard for a single disaster to prevent access to educational resources.