Power outages prompt strategies for instructional resilience at UC Berkeley

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Loss of instructional time due to power outages this semester has negatively impacted students and instructors, prompting UC Berkeley to seek solutions by creating the Instructional Resilience Task Force.

In total, the power outages have resulted in a loss of four days of instruction. The outages have also taken a financial toll on the campus, according to Diana Harvey, the associate vice chancellor for communications and public affairs. These financial costs include lost employee productivity, additional personnel and overtime, canceled or relocated events and compromised research infrastructure.

“I know it can feel like you have an assignment or paper due and you don’t have to worry about it because of the cancellation,” said Varsha Sarveshwar, the ASUC external affairs vice president and UC Student Association president. “But (the cancellations) end up having a negative effect, eating into the time that students have set aside for finals.”

The loss of instructional time has also forced some instructors to skip over material they originally planned to cover, which can negatively impact the overall quality of the course, according to Andy Theocharous, the ASUC executive vice president.

Despite these negative effects, Sarveshwar said many vital services were still available during the power outages because of the power provided by the campus’s own cogeneration plant. Residence halls were provided with necessary power, and Moffitt Library was kept open to provide power to students who might not have it at their homes.

Sarveshwar added that the power outages have provided an opportunity for the campus to identify ways to prepare for and adapt to loss of instructional time in the future.

Adam Orford, the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly president, said in an email that in a changing climate, these power outages are “likely to continue happening.” Sarveshwar also warned that loss of instructional time could be a recurring issue because of air quality issues such as those faced last year, in addition to the power outages.

To prepare for loss of instructional time in the future, the campus is in the process of creating the Instructional Resilience Task Force, which will consist of representatives from the UC Berkeley Academic Senate, ASUC, Graduate Assembly and campus administration, according to Harvey.

“The idea is to start developing the tools and laying the groundwork now,” Orford, who is involved in the task force, said in an email. “So that next year, if (when) this happens again, folks will have other options and feel empowered to use them, and students will receive instruction whether or not the physical campus is available.”

The task force will develop recommendations for a “more robust instructional model” that can respond flexibly to loss of instructional time, Harvey said in an email. Additionally, the task force “will be taking advantage of this opportunity to address some issues instructors have faced with DSP (Disabled Students’ Program) accommodations and to explore implementation of the recommendations of a Task Force on Course Material Accessibility and Affordability,” according to Harvey in the email.

Sarveshwar and Theocharous both recommended that instructors make more materials available online to facilitate greater flexibility.

“Instructors should not assume that they will have every single instructional day,” Sarveshwar said. “We should plan our semester with the expectation that something unexpected may happen.”

To address this semester’s loss of class time, the Academic Senate’s Committee on Courses of Instruction issued a series of recommendations Oct. 29, according to campus mechanical engineering professor Oliver O’Reilly, who is also the chair of the UC Berkeley Academic Senate.

The recommendations include encouraging instructors to work creatively to adapt schedules and assignments to minimize the impact of lost class time and to make use of bCourses and other online resources, O’Reilly said in an email.

The Instructional Resilience Task Force will produce a final report on recommendations for instructional resilience by March 2020, according to O’Reilly.

“I’m hoping the Task Force will be an opportunity for the campus to not only make its instructional model more robust to disruptions but also more accessible and accommodating,” O’Reilly said in an email.

Contact Alexandra Feldman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @a_p_feldman.