Have you got a plan B?

From guest Writer Judy Bloxham.

As I write this article, the county is reeling from yet another round of severe flooding. Roads have been washed out, bridges destroyed and the city of Carlisle cut in half. Just over two weeks on, the main bridge in Carlisle has now been re-opened, during this time it necessitated another 12-15 miles on journeys between the north and the south of the river. For many it meant an extra hour travel to work. Travel around the county is still a challenge and each bout of renewed heavy rain brings more problems as the soaked ground cannot cope, and it brings more fears to the residents.

The media has tended to focus on homes and businesses, but seeing school closures and water in their buildings reminded me of issues that emerged during the major episodes of flooding over the last 10 years in the county. Issues such as :

How to disaster proof your exam/assessment evidence?

How to maintain learners’ learning in times of disruption?

How to protect your learner records and progress data?

So have you got a plan B? You may think it will never happen to you. The frequency and force of extreme weather is increasing, and fire risk and power outages can provide disruption. Cyber attacks can wipe out data or prove expensive to restore as the recent incidents of Cryptolocker show.

Overwhelmed_Flood_sign,_Upton-upon-SevernIn 2005 learners from Newman School lost their exam work. It was early January and all the work for module submission during the month was destroyed. It was heartbreaking for the learners. So is there a way of avoiding loss of work?

One solution is to make use of cloud services for storage. ePortfolios are a perfect way to do this. They can provide protected storage with a backup system. You may think they are not as cheap as your paper solution, but they are certainly a cost effective, disaster avoidance, mechanism. Alongside this your learners can continue to access and add to their work no matter where they are avoiding disruption to their learning progress.

With eportfolio systems you get the added benefit of your learners’ details and progress records are held online too. Even if your backup system fails, it means your records are safe. Again the disruption to a specific location doesn’t mean you can’t carry on working and accessing them.

Another solution to this has been investigated by Carmel College and Birkenhead College on Merseyside. The colleges are around 20 miles apart and have agreed to mutually host backup servers. Alongside local backups it means that these mutually hosted servers provide excellent disaster recovery and safety of MIS details. You can read the case study here.

For small organisations, a subscription to services like Microsoft 365 or Google Apps for Business can provide that back up service. These can backup MIS data and provide secure storage for your learners. With MS 365 you can integrate services like Sharepoint that could be used to manage your data services both on and offline.

In 2009 some of my learners were unable to get into college for over three weeks due to the transport links being severed by that bout of flooding. South West College in Northern Ireland looked at addressing this issue after heavy snow caused them to close. The college ran trials for resilience of their IT systems to see if it would be possible to deliver lessons via webinar. After the initial trial showing they could, they then ran a whole week of learning that way to prove it could be done. There are plenty of web based communication systems that could be used from the free versions like Skype and Join.me to the high cost but secure and reliable WebEx and Collaborate. You can see South West College’s case study on YouTube.

Using any web based learning platform can facilitate communication with your learners no matter what. It can keep your learners progressing and learning, protect your records and save the heartbreak of trying to replace lost work. You might think it will never happen to you but…

Perhaps its time to think of that plan B. Start to think about some of the disasters that have hit others around the country in recent years, and consider what would you do in those circumstances. The disruption to a specific location doesn’t mean you can’t carry on working and accessing your records. It’s time to start to build your (plan B) Ark!

Judy Bloxham
Training Manager

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