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Colleges make jump to online courses

Katie Tabeling

Dr. Colleen Perry Keith (top left) talks with Goldey-Beacom College employees via Zoom, one of the many online tools that Delaware colleges are using to connect with students | PHOTO COURTESY OF GOLDEY-BEACOM COLLEGE

Under Gov. John Carney’s latest orders, colleges and universities are deemed non-essential and closed until at least May 15, leaving thousands of Delaware students without access to classrooms, labs and libraries. But some of Delaware’s colleges are finding success in navigating cyberspace to hold classes online.

Both Goldey-Beacom College in Wilmington and Delaware State University in Dover were ahead of the curve, thanks to innovative partnerships and advance planning.

Delaware’s first coronavirus case was reported on March 11. The next day, Goldey-Beacom swung into action and hosted its first training session for faculty to use the college’s existing online tools. By March 16, Goldey-Beacom was ready to teach all classes remotely.

Months in advance, Dr. Monica D. Tarburton Rysavy prepared video tutorials on using the college’s online learning management system. While a lot of faculty was using it, Rysavy and her team started producing more how-to content to get students on board as well.

“The most important thing is to look at my team and be able to say, ‘we’re here for you.’ We’ve been doing daily update videos, so I’m sure everyone’s sick of seeing my face by now,” she joked.

Meanwhile, DSU was on a similar track, as it instructed students to not come back from spring break by March 11. Over that weekend, faculty got intensive training on using Blackboard, a learning management system.

By March 18, DSU had more than 1,440 classes online. Crediting the quick turnaround from face-to-face to online classes, DSU Media Relations Director Steven Newton pointed to the college’s existing partnership with Apple.

Each DSU freshman or first-time student gets a Macbook or iPad, and Newton said 2,400 were issued at the start of the year. That leaves 1,400 students on their own devices.

“With almost all our students on the same device, it does help when it comes to troubleshooting some issues,” Newton said. “We also have device management software on them, which allows us to push out programs or applications to students if needed, like if a professor wants students to use a specific scientific calculator.”

What also gave DSU a boost was a digital initiative that encourages professors to integrate technology in their daily practice, like requesting students to turn assignments in online.

“If we hadn’t been doing [that], we would have been dead in the water,” Newton said. “About 85% to 90% of our faculty is already familiar with it. We are having some struggles, with some students leaving their devices back on campus but otherwise, it’s going well.”

University of Delaware in Newark, the epicenter of Delaware’s coronavirus outbreak, extended spring break and plans to roll out online classes on March 30.

For some staff, online classes is a “totally new and foreign way” of teaching, said Lynn Okagaki, UD deputy provost for academic affairs.

“Every day there are updates to this process, and with every day, the more solutions we are finding,” she said. “Our tech experts are handling complex questions and our teachers are exploring options.”

Zoom, the video conferencing platform, is a popular tool for both UD and Goldey-Beacom right now, with Goldey-Beacom using its education account to be able to fit every student on a live call, essentially creating virtual classrooms.

Learning management systems like Blackboard and Canvas also are key as educators settle into the new normal. Those platforms allow professors to upload class materials, lecture videos and proctor tests and allow students to turn in assignments.

Knovio, another platform that allows professors to add voiceovers and annotations to PowerPoints, was already being leveraged by some Goldey-Beacom professors, but it’s now becoming more essential right now.

UD has closed its more than 80 research centers, pushing faculty in those fields to modify lesson plans. That could mean relying on existing videos to illustrate lessons in the labs. For computer programs critical for students’ education, UD also provides remote access through an online portal.

Okagaki pointed out that she’s seeing UD educators rally and find innovative ways to use the tools at hand.

“We’re seeing dance and art classes being done remotely. We’re seeing duets done with one student recording their part and sending it to their partner,” she said. “It’s a very creative use to help our students adapt and receive a rich education.”

But one challenge for colleges and universities as classes head online is connectivity. Officials from both Goldey-Beacom and DSU said they’re working through issues with students as they arise.

“One of the pluses is that a majority of our students are on the same device,” Newton said. “We do hear a lot about internet access, but at the very least, Comcast Xfinity has set up hotspots so our students can go there and sit in their car, isolated, for their classes.”

UD is also directing its low-income students to various free internet services. But if students rely on library laptops or on-campus Wi-Fi, students can still apply to stay on-campus for the rest of the semester. Limited library services are expected to resume on March 30, according to UD.

While online classes have drastically changed how Delaware higher education is taught for the time being, Goldey-Beacom professor Dr. Pat Buhler said it’s not changing the core of what’s taught.

“What gives our faculty confidence in the situation is we all don’t have to go zero to 60 overnight. Not everyone has to use Zoom real-time classroom,” she said. “Many of us are using a wide range of technologies we have in the past. Now we’re sharing different methods of delivery and how we can be a little more innovative moving forward.”

By Katie Tabeling


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