Course Design and Facilitation through the Disaster Life Cycle: Preparing for Post-Pandemic Social Work Education

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

COVID-19 spotlighted the economic and racial disparities among students, creating an urgent call for educators and instructional designers to reexamine existing online learning environments. This presentation provides an overview of the ongoing learning needs of students post-pandemic and strategies for designing and facilitating courses through a trauma-informed, equity-centered lens.


As a licensed social worker, I come to the work of education in online environments through a trauma-informed lens. I've had the distinct pleasure of working with and among colleagues across disciplines in varied non-profit and university settings, and employ a strengths-based, collaborative approach to the work. My interest in bridging the digital divide, particularly in social work education, employ flexibility, creativity, and humility, and recognizes the inherent strength of each member of our learning community.

Extended Abstract

COVID-19 highlighted students' economic and racial disparities, creating an urgent call for educators and instructional designers to reexamine existing online learning environments. Recently, scholars have focused on the transition to pandemic remote teaching and students' academic and psychological needs as they transitioned online. Students were exposed to employment and food insecurity, illness, and social isolation (Banks, Cai, de Jonge, Shears, Shum, Sobočan, ... & Weinberg, 2020). Many students had to manage illness, job loss, and family responsibilities, contributing to poor mental health outcomes (Grubic, Badovinac, & Johri, 2020). As we continue to feel the impact of the pandemic, courses must be constructed based on the needs of students who have experienced shared trauma during the pandemic. 

The Disaster Life Cycle is a lens for understanding the psychological impact the pandemic has and could continue to have, on online students (Faulkner, 2003). This framework is borrowed from the emergency management sphere where it’s actualized from an operational aspect. Disasters are planned for and responded to, in a four-phase developmental model: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery (Faulkner, 2003), and there are additional psychological phased considerations within the response which prompts understanding and insight to the psychological and human response (Washington, 2018). Phase 1, known as the pre-disaster phase is mostly characterized and plagued by fear and uncertainty (in the case of the pandemic, this was experienced in February and early March 2020, in the States). Phase 2 endures impact; this is when the event happens and is characterized by a wide range of feelings, emotional responses, and reactions. At this point, community response mechanisms will engage, but the overall response will depend on what kind of disaster is occurring and what sorts of resources are available. Phase 3, is referred to as the “heroic phase”: it’s during this time a community will experience a high level of activity with a low level of productivity: think about this in terms of “rescue”. Related to the pandemic, this was seemingly at its height in the states, from March-June 2020, with the rescue taking place mainly in healthcare settings. Phase 4, known as the honeymoon phase, is indicated by an uptick in community engagement and bonding, optimism, and assistance: typically this phase only lasts for a few weeks after the event. Likened to the pandemic, the evening musical serenades to health care workers, and homemade mask-making could be some of the representative indicators likened to this stage. Phase 5 moves into the disillusionment stage, which is the opposite of the honeymoon phase. Folks start to recognize the limitations of support that are actually available for them, discouragement is common, stress is exacerbated and typically this is when they start to feel the physical and mental toll of the disaster and there could be feelings of abandonment, a sense of “having to do it alone”, disillusionment and frustration. Finally, Phase 6 moves towards reconstruction which is characterized by an overall feeling of being “recovered”. Individuals begin to adjust to the new way of life and living: in terms of timing, this usually begins around the anniversary of the event and will continue on, sometimes for many, many years, depending on the severity of the event.

One additional area of notable research for designers and SME’s to consider is that around shared traumatic stress and reality, identified by Tosone et al. (2003) as the experience of a helping professional being exposed to the same community trauma as their client. Tosone et al., (2012) offers the following definition for consideration, “Shared trauma, also referred to as shared traumatic reality, is defined as the affective, behavioral, cognitive, spiritual, and multi-modal responses that clinicians experience as a result of dual exposure to the same collective trauma as their clients. Like vicarious traumatization, these reactions have the potential to lead to permanent alterations in the clinician’s existing mental schema and world-view, the difference being that having experienced the trauma primarily, these therapists are potentially more susceptible to posttraumatic stress, the blurring of professional and personal boundaries, and increased self-disclosure”. (p.). Therefore, social work students are simultaneously experiencing the same trauma as their clients.

We suggest current online students are staged somewhere between phases 4 and 5, as the nation begins to adjust to the new “covid landscape”, and there is a budding sense of optimism. However,  given the shared traumatic stress experienced by students during the pandemic, we expect students to continue to experience traumatic stressors and responses that can impact their learning experiences, post-pandemic. The continuation of COVID-19, with no “end date”, can be a problematic adaptation, in addition to the ongoing racial disparities, civil unrest, health and safety concerns, along with increased and unpredictable school, work, and familial caregiving responsibilities (Miller, 2020; Harper & Neubaur, 2021). To achieve this, designers should consider the Disaster Life Cycle framework and shared traumatic stress both educators and students experienced, to anticipate and reflect upon students' academic and psychological needs in online learning spaces.

Given the continued shared traumatic impact the pandemic imposes amongst online students, the need to examine existing courses and move beyond remote teaching is crucial. Instructional designers collaborating with SMEs or faculty members should consider design strategies that address equity issues and promote teaching strategies that hone in on students’ lived experiences of learning post-pandemic. For example, specific attention should be given to the tone used in the facilitation, course curriculum and design. Activities that build upon student strengths, identities, resilience, and need for autonomy should be infused throughout online courses (Olseen, 2019; Fuentes, Zelaya & Madsen, 2020). Further, engaging a trauma-aware and informed approach, with an equity-centered lens entrusts a collaborative and student-centered learning experience.

More specifically, attendees will learn how to: 

  1. Summarize the psychological and academic needs of students during a disaster life cycle 

  2. Describe and apply trauma-informed teaching and design strategies with an equity-centered lens. 

  3. Identify and elevate the role learning design has in addressing systemic injustice and oppression.


Participants will have the opportunity to examine their own courses using the Peralta Equity Rubric (Peralta Community College District, 2019) to assess student needs at their institutions. The Equity rubric includes criteria such as: 

  • Addressing students’ access to technology and different types of support (both academic and non-academic)

  • Increasing the visibility of the instructor’s commitment to inclusion

  • Addressing common forms of bias (e.g., implicit bias, image and representation bias, interaction bias)

  • Helping students make connections (e.g., between course topics and their lives with the other students)

  • Following universal design for learning principles.

The goal of this activity is to help instructional designers and SMEs consider their course design and facilitation from a trauma aware and informed equity lens.

Selected References

Banks, S., Cai, T., de Jonge, E., Shears, J., Shum, M., Sobočan, A. M., ... & Weinberg, M. (2020). Practising ethically during COVID-19: Social work challenges and responses. International Social Work, 63(5), 569-583.

Faulkner, B.(2003). Towards a Framework for Disaster. Tourism Management. 22,2. 135--147

Fuentes, M. A., Zelaya, D. G., & Madsen, J. W. (2021). Rethinking the Course Syllabus: Considerations for Promoting Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Teaching of Psychology, 48(1), 69-79.

Grubic, N., Badovinac, S., & Johri, A. M. (2020). Student mental health in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic: A call for further research and immediate solutions. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 66(5), 517-518.

Harper, G. & Neubauer, L. (2021) Teaching During a Pandemic: A Model for Trauma-Informed Education and Administration. Pedagogy in Health Promotion, 7: 14-24, DOI: 

Miller, E.D. (2020) The COVID-19 Pandemic Crisis: The Loss and Trauma Event of Our Time, Journal of Loss and Trauma, 25:6-7, 560-572, DOI: 10.1080/15325024.2020.1759217

Oleson, Kathryn C. Promoting Inclusive Classroom Dynamics in Higher Education. Stylus Publishing, LLC. Print.

Peralta Community College District. (2019). Peralta Equity Rubric, version 2.0. Retrieved from Picciano, A. (2002). Beyond student perceptions: Issues of interaction, presence, and performance in an online course. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 6, 21-40. doi: 10.24059/olj.v6i1.1870. 

Tosone, C., & Bialkin, L. (2003). The impact of mass violence and secondary trauma in clinical practice. In L. A. Straussner & N. Phillips (Eds.), Social work with victims of mass violence (pp. 157–167). New York: Jossey Bass.

Tosone, C., Nuttman-Shwartz, O., & Stephens, T. (2012). Shared trauma: When the professional is personal. Clinical Social Work Journal, 40(2), 231–239.

Washington, E. (2018, October 01). Phases of Disaster. Retrieved April 22, 2021, from