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Overcoming the Aftermath of Hurricane Maria and Keeping Students Engaged

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Nowadays, higher education institutions are at a crossroads, both for trying to capture students’ attention worldwide, and for creating interest in their academic programs – and the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico (PUPR) is no exception. Currently, the institution is focusing its efforts on implementing technological initiatives that facilitate access to more students, using teaching and learning-based distance education as their methodology. However, this access must be complemented by an experience that is worthwhile for students, and which motivates them and allows them to enjoy the learning process.

The main focus of the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico is on solving the current challenges related to education quality, with a particular emphasis on e-learning and academic integrity. These key elements of PUPR’s strategy have been guiding the institution’s actions for several years, as well as the accreditation and internationalization plans they have been preparing for quite some time. Added to this are the more than seven years that the university has been creating fully online courses.

However, an unforeseen event of the greatest proportions awaited them. The worst natural disaster in the history of Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria, which hit the island on September 20, 2017, making headlines for days, and leaving behind great economic and human loss. Even now, six months later, most of the road and energy infrastructure remains damaged, and Puerto Ricans still feel the personal sequels of this tragedy very deeply.

Overcoming the impact of this type of catastrophe in a positive way is a task that requires time and effort by anyone involved in the academic process, and students in particular. Heyda Delgado, director of the CEDUP Distance Education Center at the university, takes this into account in her work, as she is responsible for following up with the Miami, Orlando and San Juan campuses during this unexpected situation.

Seven years ago, long before the hurricane, the university had already decided to implement an online education plan that led to the creation of the CEDUP. Since then, and with a team of less than 10 people, Heyda and her colleagues have created 72 courses, with over 20 more currently in development. From the instructional design and of multimedia pieces, to the loading of content into Blackboard’s platform and its management, all constitute complex work that earned the PUPR the Outstanding Recognition for Distance Learning Award by the Middle Commission of Higher Education in 2015.

Read the rest of the article at E-Learn Magazine