Southeastern’s spring 2020 in-person classes ended on Friday, March 13, due to COVID-19 precautions, but the academic progress of students continues.
On Wednesday, March 18, the university transitioned to online instruction. The process has been fluid and has seen great results, with both faculty and staff quickly adapting to the changes.
“Although I would much prefer to teach my classes in person, particularly because they were very good classes this semester, adapting to online instruction and work from home has gone smoothly,” said Professor of History and Department Head Dr. William B. Robison. “As Department Head of the Department of History and Political Science, I am very fortunate that most faculty in the department have taught online classes and that the few who have not done so were quick to seek assistance from the Center for Faculty Excellence or tech-savvy graduate students.”
Southeastern’s Center for Faculty Excellence began preparing for the move in advance of the first day of fully remote learning and continues to offer a variety of tools to aid Southeastern educators.
“When the transition was announced, the center’s goal was to create a basic set of resources to help those that needed it most,” said Dr. Mary Ballard, the center’s director. “Basic information was presented in on-campus workshops before the university closed and afterward using live streaming and recorded webinars.”
The suite of resources the center has made available includes a revised webpage that guides faculty through a four-step process for transitioning to the online environment; one-on-one online assistance; live, live streaming, and recorded webinars as well as PDF guides focused on utilizing Google Meet, Moodle (Southeastern’s learning management system), PowerPoint, YouTube, and more; Faculty PRIDE Podcast that connects voices across campus on professional development topics; and a Care and Share Google Group that allows faculty to come together and share their experiences, facilitating assistance and advice from colleagues.
“You can’t just put a face-to-face class online,” said Ballard. “Learning objectives have to be re-examined, and new ways of achieving them are often needed. Activities that work well in the physical classroom may no longer work in the virtual one. Our workshops and one-on-one time helped those struggling with this concept. This is ongoing.”
“The COVID-19 crisis has been a challenging mixture of devastation and uncertainty, but faculty are doing their jobs,” said Robison. “We take a lot of pride in doing it right.”
“I have noticed students, faculty, and staff responding with grace, understanding, flexibility, and kindness. This is one of the many reasons I love Southeastern so much,” said Erin Rode-Fiorello, instructor and undergraduate coordinator for the General Studies Program. “I’ve witnessed amazing changes and growth that all universities experience, but at the heart of our university is the community and family that is Southeastern. The support and help that is given to each other through whatever may come our way, be it 9/11, a hurricane, a flood, or COVID-19, we get through it together.”
Bradley Miller, a computer science major from Paducah, Ky., said his instructors have been nothing but supportive, and that technology has helped in explaining concepts.
“My English teacher is really good at telling us what direction we should be heading and how we are doing on our assignments,” he said. “And my math teachers are either posting videos of practice problems or PowerPoint lecture slides.”
In addition to the Center for Faculty Excellence, Southeastern houses the Center for Student Excellence. The center works with first-year students, transfer students, and students that are uncertain about their major and / or career, as well as offering tutoring and supplemental instruction for all students at Southeastern. The Center for Student Excellence Director Dr. Lorett Swank said that spring is normally a bit slower pace for the center but, ironically, they have been focusing on professional development with weekly training in Leonet, Moodle, and Google programs like suite, meet, calendar, and sheets.
“We had no idea that we were actually preparing for something like this. A shared Moodle shell had already been developed for our classes with a week-by-week curriculum making the transition to on-line seamless,” Swank explained. “We were already using the Google drive to store and share important documents and all CSE staff were using the Google calendar to schedule student appointments.”
The biggest challenge, Swank said, was trying to figure out how to transition the tutoring and almost 3,000 advising appointments to an on-line format.
“Luckily, we have some really smart, creative, and dedicated people who are able to work under pressure and think outside of the box,” she said. “The days before we were sent home it was a bit of a scramble with multiple last-minute urgent meetings requiring us to change directions as new information became available.”
In the days leading up to March 18, Swank said she had all CSE staff inventory their home technology and encouraged them to get their home workspace in good working order.
“We made a quick order to get webcams, and they began selling out everywhere,” she said. “I also asked all CSE staff to be Google Meet proficient, and we were able to practice at the office before we all left. We even held a meeting in the office via Google Meet so everyone could get the hang of it.”
The Tutoring Center tutors also practiced sessions with Google Meet, and they were able to successfully navigate the software and establish a system that students can drop into tutoring sessions by subject via the website, Swank explained. Students are currently meeting live with tutors in select subjects.
“This is a great opportunity for students to stay connected with Southeastern, and it is available for all undergraduate students,” said Brooke Giaratano, a Communication Sciences and Disorders graduate student and Tutoring Center graduate assistant. “Students can access many resources for remote learning during this time.”
The center also perfected on-line advising in Google Meet, where students can view an advisor’s schedule and make an appointment. Since remote work began, Swank said, the center has successfully advised over 800 students to date with the new system.
In addition to changes with advising and tutoring, the center is also launching a new chat feature on their website. During normal business hours, anyone can chat with CSE staff via a link on the website.
The center is also using Instagram Live, where two staff members are featured on Mondays with an “ask me anything” format to help students with whatever is happening in their academic life, and creating videos for commonly asked questions pertaining to advising, registration, and other topics related to student success. They even have their own YouTube channel.
According to faculty, students have been adapting well to the transition and demonstrating commitment to their studies. Robison commented that his “students all have taken the situation in stride. Of course they are not thrilled at the threat COVID-19 poses, and most of my students have told me they miss the face-to-face contact, but they have not complained or neglected their work.”
“Overall, although this is not an ideal situation, I feel that I have adapted well to the changes that COVID-19 has brought,” said Giaratano. “I plan to continue to work hard in my classes and make the best of this situation.”
“I know that this is a challenging time for everyone, but the silver lining here is that it has forced us to create new student-friendly systems, giving our students real-time information and easy access,” Swank explained. “It is something that we have struggled with for a while in higher education and this is the perfect opportunity to evolve. While we are apart trying to flatten the COVID-19 curve, we are increasing our learning curve to help our students be successful.”