Committed to maintaining academic continuity, faculty embrace technology training and support
By Shannon Sigafoos
While spring break is just beginning for students, Lafayette’s professors and staff members are spending their time preparing for remote instruction and work.
All Lafayette classes will be held remotely from March 23 through April 5 due to safety precautions related to the spread of COVID-19. The College is striving to preserve as much of the community experience as possible while moving forward with the remainder of the spring term.
With relatively little turnaround time to move all material online or to alter the remainder of the syllabi for an online setting, a number of parties on campus are contributing toward successful online delivery.
To support those efforts, the Center for Integration for Teaching, Learning and Scholarship (CITLS) and Learning and Research Technologies (LRT) offered several sessions leading into spring break to support faculty with planning for remote teaching options. The sessions involved using technologies such as Google Meet (available through the G Suite), Zoom, and Moodle as central places for posting course information and hosting class forums. The Libraries are offering extensive online support.
As teachers around the country are faced with this unique event, the remote options will ensure that students don’t lose valuable learning time and can remain engaged with their instructors and peers. Educational leaders at multiple institutions also are reaching out to one another and sharing ideas and support through educator groups and social networks.
“Technology is important, but this is more about what strategies someone can use, and those might be strategies that they’re already using now,” says Jason Alley, director of learning and research technologies in Information Technology Services. “Some folks are currently using Moodle tools to support their teaching, and while they might meet face to face on a regular basis, they’re using online discussion forums. They’re collecting assignments remotely. So, a lot of this stuff is already happening.”
The first thing that many instructors did was reach out to their students directly to assess what technologies and resources the students will have access to while they are learning off campus. Some students (and faculty) also live in more remote areas or may not have access to a high-speed connection, so it’s important for options to be available to suit all needs.
“It’s a change in practice for some faculty, but there are faculty who actively use some of these tools for their teaching anyway,” echoes Tracie Addy, director of CITLS. “We always think of, ‘What is the end goal that we want for instruction? What do we want students to know or be able to do?’ We’re still trying to pursue many of those same questions, but it’s also a matter of the tools that we use to get there and the different strategies that we will use, and being aware that it will likely look different online compared to face to face.”
Faculty and staff who sat in on training sessions were shown how active learning can be replicated in digital technologies, including the ability to have those sessions recorded and preserved for anyone who can’t make “live” meetings, ways to close caption sessions for anyone with audio issues, and how to share URLs specific to a calendar event. For now, the idea is that all students will be sticking to their regular class schedules and meeting online during what would have been their in-person class times.
“This is a new challenge for many professors, but we’ve been pleased with how they’ve responded. They enjoy teaching their students, and they want them to learn, and they are making the extra effort,” says Addy. “We’ll see what the next few weeks hold, but we have some pretty fabulous faculty here. Maybe they’ll be surprised themselves with how their classes are going, and that would be a positive unintended consequence.”
Several faculty members who are going through the transition were quick to echo the same thoughts. Some had even started preparing well before the College made the decision to transition to a remote education.
“We’ve focused a lot on pedagogy and technologies that are specifically related to language learning. We’ve been training for the last couple of weeks, and that includes our whole staff from our secretary to our part-time visiting assistant professors,” says Michelle Geoffrion-Vinci, head of foreign languages and literatures. “We’ve most recently trained ourselves in Zoom, because we feel that it’s the most robust choice for us. It’s a platform for teleconference where you can take a class and break them into small groups.”
“We are all using Google Meet to meet with students during our normally scheduled times,” says Hannah Stewart-Gambino, professor of government & law and international affairs. “We all already use Moodle, so posting our PowerPoint slides in advance and selectively using Kaltura in addition to Google Meet is our basic approach. Several people are designing small-group work or other kinds of activities offline that can then be shared online.”
Overall, patience is going to be key—as is keeping in mind that many in academia are going through the same challenges.
“We’re not expecting people to do things that are outside their comfort zone,” says Alley. “Not everyone has to do it the same way. We’re seeing resources pop up all over. There’s a lot of rallying within the higher ed industry.”