University Professors' Adaptation to Teaching On-Line Courses under Trying Personal and Professional Conditions in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

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ABSTRACT

This paper examines how professors at universities severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina adjusted to the challenges of teaching on-line courses in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane in the New Orleans area.

What stands out in this experience is the role of technology (Internet, e-mail, etc.) in enabling on-line courses to be taught with faculty and students scattered over a wide geographical area under trying conditions. Both faculty and students had to adapt to chaotic and in some cases primitive situations. Out-of-the box thinking was needed to provide access to Internet facilities and support materials such as textbooks. Both faculty and students had to learn very quickly how to instruct and take on-line courses.

What does the future hold? The faculty remains uncertain about the future outlook. Many felt that on-line courses offered flexibility to the typical student and should remain an option for future students. Students at this metropolitan university have different needs. The typical undergraduate student is in his/her late 20's, has a family and works full or part-time. Many professors still do not enjoy teaching on-line classes, but do feel it is important to students and should remain an option in addition to classroom instruction.

INTRODUCTION

Hurricane Katrina started out as a small easterly wave off the coast of West Africa. The disturbance became a tropical depression on August 23, 2005 and then Tropical Storm Katrina. On August 25 Katrina became a hurricane, passed over South Florida and headed into the Gulf of Mexico. Katrina made its record landfall on August 29th as a category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of 1 25 mph near Buras, Louisiana. The primary areas that were affected were southeastern Louisiana including the City of New Orleans (Orleans parish), and the parishes (counties) of Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard and southern St. Tammany, as well as the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The effects of Katrina were catastrophic and widespread, as it was one of the deadliest natural disasters in the history of the United States. Katrina claimed 1,836 lives; 1,577 of them in Louisiana (Wikipedia, 2006). The economic effects were far reaching. As of April 2006, the Bush Administration has sought over $105 billion for repairs and construction in the region (St. Onge & Epstein, 2006). The U.S. Congress has appropriated $ 1 1 0 billion for the Gulf Coast recovery (Gyan, 2007). It is estimated that the total impact in Louisiana and Mississippi may exceed $150 billion (Burton, M. & M. J. Hicks, 2005).

The impact was greatest on the City of New Orleans and the parishes noted above. Eighty percent of the city was flooded. Damage from wind and flood waters impacted 304,440 homes in the New Orleans Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), 180,000 so badly that they were uninhabitable (Scott & Richardson, 2006). St. Bernard parish sustained a loss of 23,000 homes and 4,000 businesses (Brown, 2005).

Some 20,500 small businesses were destroyed, 18,752 of those suffering catastrophic damage (Joyner, et. al., 2006). The decline in tourism has had a damaging impact on businesses including those in the relatively undamaged French Quarter, especially antique shops and art galleries (Burdeau, 2007).

Job levels remain low in the New Orleans MSA. Employment in the MSA declined from 615,000 in May 2005 to 395, 000 in October 2005. As of August 2006, the MSA was still down 173, 4000 jobs compared to August 2005 (Scott, 2006, October). By December 2006 the number of jobs had increased to 447,100 (Staff reports, NOLA.com, January, 2007). The lack of housing has made it difficult to find employees for the jobs available.

The health care sector was one of the industry sectors hardest hit by Katrina. As of September 2006, 36 hospitals were in operation, down from 53, pre-Katrina. Healthcare employment declined by 41 percent (25,000 jobs) for the period August 2005-August 2006. …