October 22, 2004

PROJECT MANAGEMENT: Contingency Planning

I'm back online after dealing with a death in the family, which also happened to occur at the same time as the second week of two of my online courses, the first week of two classroom-based courses, and some F2F seminars. At the moment, I'm still trying to sort things out... I'm hardly focused on blog posting - and I refuse to even look at my aggregator, which is surely exploding with several weeks of unread posts.

Since I like to look at everything as a learning opportunity, I'll say that it's interesting to note once again how less well-formed contingency planning often is in the online world as opposed to the traditional classroom.

Part of the problem is that there are so many more choices that can be left up to the online instructor ... for on-site classes, it's simple - if you aren't in town you can't teach, and it's up to the administration to decide whether to cancel, find a substitute, or delay.

But for online instructors called out-of-town on a sudden emergency, there's always the question of whether or not the facilitator will be able to log in from wherever he/she is (and how soon he/she will be able to do this). If there is no designated administrative liaison monitoring the class, the instructor may well be the only person communicating with students and the only one who has any clear picture of the class status, structure, scheduling, and time zone issues for synchronous elements. If the class is asynchronous, there's a question of whether or not any delay will be needed to be announced at all. And, of course, the facilitator may be dealing with these questions at a difficult time when he/she isn't thinking clearly and focused on the class.

Administrative systems are rarely set up and staffed well enough to handle any amount of ambiguity in SOPs, so there's a huge opportunity for communications failure when administrators must suddenly act as the liaison between the facilitator and class participants in these types of situations. While some might say that a standard, inflexible cancellation policy is the only thing that makes sense in these situations, I can't help but think that this goes too far in the opposite direction.

As for myself, I am definitely planning to re-evaluate the contingency plans for my own classes to see if I can't suggest a more workable approach for everybody involved...

Posted by Joanne Tzanis at October 22, 2004 01:35 PM