MARIETTA, OHIO— Classes are still happening at Washington State Community College (WSCC) despite the upheaval caused by the Coronavirus. Parking lots aren’t filled to capacity, classrooms are dark, and you definitely won’t find students sitting together studying, and yet learning persists. Campus officials are crediting the success to the fortitude and resiliency of the faculty and students.
Faculty were given the week following spring break to put together plans for migrating face-to-face classes to a virtual space. “They were amazing,” said Dr. Vicky Wood, president of WSCC. “Each faculty member rose to the challenge and devised plans to ensure their students could still learn. The challenge they were presented with was enormous, yet when classes were back in session the following week, they were ready.”
Admittedly, it wasn’t an easy task. The college migrated 264 classes from an in-person format to remote delivery in under a week. Including College Credit Plus (CCP) sections for dual enrollment students, a total of 380 courses were moved to a virtual format. “Faculty members collaborated and learned from each other and from their peers at other colleges who were making similar decisions. We used best practices to quickly devise a plan to keep our students on track to finish their courses this semester, and in many cases, complete their degrees,” said Wood.
When developing their alternative classroom delivery plan, faculty leaned heavily on the expertise of Dr. Ziad Akir, director of e-learning, and the IT department, which is managed by Kinetic Networking. Akir explained that the plan builds on WSCC’s current e-learning platform Sakai, “We worked with faculty to develop individual plans for remote teaching and we supported their work with several training workshops such as Zoom.”
Zoom software allows for real-time video conferencing that is being used for remote delivery of lessons and discussion. Students can download the software for free to attend their classes on their computers or mobile devices and interact with their instructors and classmates. In the first week of remote learning, the college logged more than 100 thousand minutes with 2,500 unique participants in Zoom.
One of the biggest initial challenges of the move was migrating lab classes online. Jessie Penich, an assistant professor of chemistry, helped devise a creative way to engage students who cannot physically complete procedures in a lab. His solution was to post videos with sample data. After viewing the video, students can use the sample data to write a lab report. He complements this work with two Zoom sessions each week for students who may have questions. He said he also uses Zoom to meet with students for individual office appointments.
“These past two weeks have been a blur,” admitted Associate Professor and Director of Practical Nursing Alicia Warren. “I am taping lectures on Zoom, creating assignments on Sakai that were previously handed in, uploading PowerPoint presentations, meeting with students for live Zoom lectures, posting videos to enhance the lectures, as well as answering multiple emails a day from students. I prefer face to face teaching, but this is working.”
Warren said her biggest challenge has been having consistent Internet access at her home. She isn’t alone as many faculty, staff, and students have the same issue. High-speed internet access has been a long-standing problem for the rural areas of the Mid-Ohio Valley. When governors from both sides of the river put a stay-at-home order in place, the problem became magnified.
“Originally we planned to open our library and computer labs to students while employing social distancing and other safety measures recommended by the CDC, however, with stay-at-home orders, we had to shift our strategy,” Wood explained. “We amplified our Wi-Fi signal to reach the lower parking lot so students can access the Internet while sitting in their vehicles. We’ve also communicated Wi-Fi hotspot locations that can be found throughout the community, as well as information about Internet providers who are offering free Internet for a limited time.”
Another challenge of shifting an in-person class to a remote delivery method is test proctoring. WSCC’s Medical Laboratory Technology program got creative with their utilization of technology. IPads are required in this program. “For exams, we are having them log into Zoom with their phones and set it up to see them on camera. They then use their iPads to take the exam while we are virtually proctoring,” explained MLT Instructor Lindy Lemley.
“I am pleasantly surprised by how much the students still want to learn during this time. They are not giving up.” While she still prefers to teach in-person, Lemley explained that she will do whatever it takes to make this new learning environment work. “We are surviving because I want my students to succeed.”
Test proctoring is actually a topic of concern for the entire campus and Akir said the college has taken measures to address the matter with the integration of Respondus LockDown Browser. This feature allows the browser to be locked when a student is taking a quiz or exam, which prevents them from printing, copying, going to another URL, or accessing other applications.
“With the addition of Zoom and Respondus LockDown, I believe we have all the elements required for a rich, effective and authentic virtual teaching and learning environment,” Akir affirmed.
Classrooms that rely heavily on kinesthetic learning, like the auto-diesel program, had to find a new approach to their hands-on teaching methods. Auto-Diesel Program Director Joe Nutter said he is having success using Electude. He described the software as a comprehensive e-learning system for auto and truck technicians. “It’s designed for today’s learning style by integrating gamification,” he explained. While he hopes to return to normal operations soon, he said he believes the use of this innovative software will keep his students on track.
Madison Galloway, who is on schedule to graduate with a degree in social sciences next year, said she was initially worried about the change in how her classes were delivered. With the first week behind her, she was able to breathe a sigh of relief. “I had anxiety about self-motivation, as it is really easy for me to get distracted at home. All of my teachers are utilizing Zoom and I would call that a success.” She’s quick to point out that her new online classes go beyond classes she’s previously taken online. “It’s been nice to see the faces of my classmates.”
“My instructors have all been very helpful and accommodating,” said Galloway. “They’re posting the videos after class is over and they’re posting PowerPoint presentations, and letting us know how they can be reached. I think the biggest challenge is trying to transition our face-to-face activities to things that we can turn in digitally. Assignments are having to be adapted and it’s all being decided as we go and our instructors have been asking our input. It’s nice that we get to be a part of the conversation.”
While Galloway is impressed by the responsiveness of her instructors, she will be glad to return to school. “I prefer being on campus because I feel more organized and involved, but I am very happy to have the capability to video-in for my classes during this time.”
Eli Hunter will finish his degree in Radiology Technology in July. The switch to online instruction only affected one of his classes, so his evaluation of the migration is positive. Hunter, however, is among more than 113 WSCC students in health programs who are currently waiting to see how clinical rotations will be completed.
“All of this will pass over in the months to come. Every medical program in America is in the same boat as we are. I know everyone at WSCC is doing their best to make our lives as easy and stress-free as possible,” Hunter said with conviction. “I am not worried. I am sure everything will work out. This is just a speed bump along the way.”
Wood said, “right now our clinical partners are on high alert and focused on caring for their patients and staying in front of the virus, which has caused health faculty to redesign the clinical experience for our students. They have worked with accrediting agencies and purchased new software to ensure students achieve the required competencies to complete course requirements and pass national certification exams.”
As for future students considering enrolling at the institution, information sessions are still being held, albeit differently than the past. Carrie Thrash, director of new student enrollment said they are hosting these meetings virtually. Thrash was impressed by the engagement of those who have participated in the virtual info session.
“With our first week of the new normal behind us, I can say with confidence that our plan is working and we are keeping our students on track with their education,” affirmed Wood.
For now, students are slated to return to campus on April 7, however, Wood said this date may have to be modified based on direction from the governor. “Over the past two weeks there has been tremendous effort exerted to, most importantly, keep our faculty, staff, and students safe, as well as allow our students to continue their education and progress toward completion. While we have established dates to re-open campus, we will comply with the direction of the Governor, state mandates and recommendations.”