Continuity Through COVID-19: A Discussion with FIU

How FIU tapped into contingency planning for hurricanes to successfully navigate the pandemic

On April 30, Valerie Johnsen, Associate Provost of Academic and Career Success at Florida International University joined EduNav for a live discussion on how FIU has leveraged its experience with hurricanes to transition to remote learning and student services. Valerie holds both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from FIU and has worked in higher education for 20 years.

Florida International University is in the heart of Miami, Florida and prides itself as being Miami’s first and only research institution. With almost 54,000 students and over 200,000 alumni, it is ranked among the ten largest universities in the US. Like many universities, colleges, and organizations in South Florida, FIU is all too familiar with the imminent threat of hurricane season, which begins June 1st and extends through most of the university’s fall semester. As hurricanes have ravaged the coasts of Florida and Caribbean, colleges and universities are forced to close their campuses and even send residential students home. In fall 2017, for instance, Hurricane Irma forced FIU’s campuses to close for almost 2 weeks. This contingency planning and experience with natural disasters uniquely prepared FIU for a challenge like COVID-19.

With a well-developed hurricane preparedness plan FIU was steps ahead of other US institutions when transitioning to remote learning and work in March. Johnsen mentioned that hurricane contingencies for lab courses had already been developed for up to three weeks, which provided a valuable window for faculty and administration to plan for the remainder of the semester. Outside of their natural disaster contingencies, policies such as their LMS minimum usage policy eased the transition to remote learning, since many faculty were at least familiar with FIU’s LMS. Other initiatives, like “PCs for Panthers,” a technology-loaning program, or their pre-existing emergency aid fund, gave them a head-start in providing support to the most affected student populations.

Unlike hurricanes, which are short-term fixes with some level of predictability, the coronavirus is forcing higher ed administrators to think long-term. Despite FIU’s familiarity with hurricane induced campus closures, COVID-19 presented different challenges. Anticipating this, FIU organized their Academic Continuity Team (ACT) before transitioning to remote learning in early March. The ACT is made up of three departments: FIU Online, the Center for Advancement of Teaching, and Educational Technology Services. This became their “operational hub” during the remote transition, says Johnsen, and the ACT’s responsibility is to work with designees from each college to implement leadership decisions. Johnsen credits this team with the success of FIU’s transition and recommends that all institutions should designate their own academic continuity teams.

While Johnsen found the transition to be relatively successful, there are still pieces in progress. FIU’s summer semesters have been announced as fully remote, but the planning is still underway with student and employee safety and academic continuity as top priorities. While FIU joins most higher ed institutions with no official decision on their fall semester plans, Johnsen says that the key to planning in the face of uncertainty is maximum flexibility—plan and be ready for the worst, the best, and everything in-between.

If you missed our webinar and would like to hear more about FIU’s transition and plans for fall, please register here for access to the webinar recording.

Florida International University has kindly provided the following as examples of their resources during their transition to remote learning and work:

FIU Coronavirus Updates – Official FIU webpage for all Covid-19 updates for students, faculty, staff, and administration. Includes processes, forms, and FAQ page.

Academic Continuity Guide – As part of FIU’s academic continuity plan, the university developed a resource site for instructors and students to provide one central location for support in our transition to remote instruction.

Emergency Aid – University-wide effort to help our students in an emergency financial crisis, with a variety resources and funding sources. Easy to apply and quick response for students.

FIU Virtual Events Page – Steer clear of cabin fever ⁠— and stay healthy, educated, and on track ⁠— by tuning in to these virtual events and activities. Get your workout in, take up new skills like cooking or meditation, visit FIU’s  “virtual museums,” and more.

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