Preparation Made It Possible

How Louisiana Tech’s existing disaster plan made all the difference for its transition to online learning.
Preparation Made It Possible

FACULTY AT LOUISIANA Tech’s College of Business in Ruston sensed that big changes were imminent in early March, when the university put interim travel measures in place in response to the pandemic. On March 9, the provost and my fellow academic deans began to discuss alternative course delivery for the spring quarter, set to begin just two days later. At that point, things began moving quickly. On March 13, we made the decision to bring classes online for an interim period that was eventually extended through the end of summer.

Our IT staff immediately began delivering training sessions to prepare faculty to teach in a fully online format. Somehow, our college was able to bring all 167 of its courses on the schedule online in just 72 hours.

But the College of Business had two big advantages as it made this transition. First, each quarter, the school requires faculty to sign a disaster preparedness document, which informs them of the college’s policies surrounding short-term disaster preparedness measures. With the help of these policies, faculty were ready to adapt quickly when a tornado hit Louisiana Tech’s campus last year. In fact, faculty normally have at least one week’s worth of course content on Moodle in the event of a short-term disaster.

The College of Business also requires that faculty include the following statement on their syllabi: “In the event that a disaster or other emergency results in campus closure, this course will continue via Moodle. You will be required to log in to for further instructions. Please enroll in the Emergency Notification System to receive official campus updates.” This statement informs students ahead of time what to expect in an emergency.

Second, more than 50 percent of our faculty had already taught courses online, so when they had to begin recording lectures for the remaining face-to-face content, they knew what to do. Using the school’s LightBoard Studio, classroom document cameras, and office webcams, faculty uploaded necessary coursework to MediaSite and Moodle and began conducting office hours via Zoom. Once we realized we would be producing more online content, the college invested in additional computer storage capacity for video lectures, as well as laptops and webcams for faculty and doctoral students as needed.

To maintain the continuity of research and teaching, faculty worked closely with each other to fill any gaps in knowledge about teaching online. Faculty advisors also worked alongside DBA students and other colleagues to conduct research virtually.

Louisiana Tech did not have the luxury of having a week of spring break to prepare for the transition, so we were grateful that the technology we had in place allowed us to act quickly. To ease students’ anxiety about converting to online learning, the university gave them the option of either receiving letter grades or taking courses pass/fail.

What are the College of Business’ next steps? For one, administrators are extending the “tenure clock” for tenure-track faculty to account for this disruption in their career trajectories. Next, we have made temporary changes to graduate school admissions to accommodate students unable to take the GMAT or GRE due to site closures. Our recruiting efforts for students and faculty, as well as our admissions, are continuing as normal, except staff are now working from home.

Clear communication will remain one of the school’s best tactics to ensure faculty, staff, and students are well informed and remain connected. As dean, I augment regular communications from the university’s president with updates to College of Business stakeholders. I also hold collegewide virtual Q&As once a week, where faculty can ask questions about academic policy changes.

To maintain a sense of community, the school gathered inspirational and motivational videos from its alumni to share on social media channels. We have not canceled any of our College of Business events—just postponed them. We want to ensure our students, particularly the graduating seniors, have the fullest year we can possibly give them.

Although students benefit from online course delivery, I believe that students need the full on-campus experience to develop soft skills and build meaningful relationships. For that reason, we expect that the College of Business’ nearly 1,500 undergraduate and graduate students and 80 faculty members will be able to resume face-to-face interactions sooner than later. As of mid-May, the university had released its three-phase plan to reopen campus, with Phase 1 starting in late May.

There are experiences that students cannot fully participate in remotely. We anticipate that our students will take full advantage of every in-person opportunity offered once they return to campus.

Chris Martin is dean of Louisiana Tech University’s College of Business in Ruston.

This article originally appeared in BizEd's July/August 2020 issue. Please send questions, comments, or letters to the editor to [email protected].

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