Post-Katrina, e-Learning Product More Valuable than Ever

By Linda L. Briggs

It’s been a year since Hurricane Katrina and the resulting flooding devastated New Orleans, and a new hurricane season is underway. At Delgado Community College, last year’s havoc hit hard. But the tragedy has resulted in some positive changes.

The Louisiana public community college has campuses throughout New Orleans, including the East and West Banks of the city. One tool that has gained a heavy following on at least one campus since the hurricane is Tegrity’s class recording system, which wasn’t in great use before the storm, but proved incredibly useful when students had to abandon campus and finish classes online. Integrated with backend course management systems, Tegrity gives schools the ability to record, store, and index courses online. This allowed Delgado faculty to continue delivering instruction online. 

Before Katrina hit, Melissa LaCour, Director of Health Information Technology for the entire Delgado Community College system, was one of the primary users of Tegrity at Delgado. LaCour works from Delgado’s main City Park campus in the Orleans parish, and has been using Tegrity since 2003, primarily for enhancing her face-to-face classes in health information technology.

At Delgado, Tegrity is tied into the college’s Blackboard Course Management System, which the school uses to post class information such as syllabi, additional materials, quizzes, tests, and assignments for online as well as face-to-face classes.

The initial days after Katrina struck in late August 2005 were filled with uncertainty, LaCour says. In the first days after the storm, it seemed as if little had happened. “Initially we felt unscathed from the storm,” she says. “Everything seemed fine, only to find out later…that it wasn’t.” During the week after the storm, of course, the infamous levees were breached, and some 80 percent of New Orleans was flooded. The city is still struggling to recover from this devastation.

As the flooding worsened and covered much of the city, Delgado students, faculty, and staff waited in various locations outside the city to find out when they could return to the campus.

When LaCour was finally able to reunite with some faculty members and administrators a week after the storm, colleges throughout the state were offering to help take Delgado students. However, LaCour says she suddenly realized that with Tegrity’s ability to deliver material to any student with an Internet connection, she could lecture from anywhere. “I realized…I wanted to help my students; this is my job and I can do this. I have the material, and I have the ability with Tegrity. There’s no reason that they should have to go anyplace else,” LaCour recalls.

From there, it was a matter of waiting for Delgado’s IT infrastructure to be ready to host the Tegrity courses again. When that happened in October, LaCour was back in action. At least 85 students who endured for the Katrina-interrupted semester used Tegrity and were able to successfully complete courses.

For some faculty, the disaster was a push to begin using Tegrity. One faculty member, LaCour says, knew of Tegrity before Katrina, but was hesitant to try it. “Post-Katrina, he has jumped in with both feet,” she says.

For the most part, faculty record and post their own lectures, a process that’s relatively simple using the Tegrity software. “There has been [occasional] administrative and technical upkeep,” LaCour says. “But as a whole, it’s fairly easy. We work through the problems.” Tegrity’s customer support has been helpful with issues involving uploading and labeling courses, for example.

One issue that comes up with e-learning products is the impact on attendance. Delgado addresses that through a Tegrity function that allows instructors to hold students responsible for their attendance at the recorded lectures. The product can record whether a particular student has viewed a lecture, and for how long.

For LaCour, Tegrity is good preparation for future hurricane seasons, but also a great way to serve students who are holding down full-time jobs. Courses that combine face-to-face coursework along with online sections using Tegrity, she says, “allow [workings students] to continue in the program.”

Linda L. Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif.

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