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Online Learning in an Emergency: Delivering the Curriculum When the Campus Is Closed

National workshop convenes to help colleges and universities prepare

(New Orleans, LA) Within days of Hurricane Katrina hitting the Gulf Coast and levies breaking in New Orleans, a group of colleges and universities across the country pulled together to offer free online courses to students displaced by the storm. The initiative, supported with a $1.1 million dollar grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, was called Sloan Semester and created a fully functional virtual institution in 21 days. Sloan Semester made available more than 1,350 courses from over 150 institutions nationwide to more than 1,750 students.  Nearly 3,000 course enrollments were processed.  More than two out of three Sloan Semester students completed coursework, with 70% earning a grade of A or B.

Today, forty experts from around the country -- including representatives from the Louisiana Board of Regents, many of the impacted institutions and leading experts in emergency preparedness in higher education -- are gathering for a working session in New Orleans.

“We have become increasingly aware that there can be local, regional and potentially national emergencies that can force colleges and universities to close their campuses,” said Frank Mayadas, program director, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.  “Sloan Semester taught us that online learning is a valuable tool to deliver the curriculum when the campus is closed and it should be a vital piece of every academic institution’s emergency planning.”

“The working session has two main goals. The first is to develop a series of online workshops to help colleges and universities across the country prepare for the delivery of their curricula online when emergencies -- such as hurricanes, earthquakes, terrorist acts, or epidemics -- close the physical campus,” said Ray Schroeder director of the Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning University of Illinois, Springfield“.  The second goal is to develop a Sloan Consortium response center to assure that national resources are brought to bear to help colleges and universities in their efforts.”

Schroeder said both goals are to be accomplished within 60 days after the workshop concludes. 

Progress reports from the working groups and further details of the workshop are online at

The Sloan Consortium is an international association of colleges and universities committed to high-quality online education.  For more information see or

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation makes grants in science, technology and the quality of American life.  Its Anytime, Anyplace Learning program has paved the way for more than 2.5 million learners nationwide to take online courses.  For more information see