By Diana Leyva
Nine hundred and six LinkedIn Learn courses viewed, 2,471 active Blackboard courses (41 which are fully online for traditional students), 9,472 Blackboard video files, and 14,675 Panopto video views and downloads: These are just some of the statistics that can describe the spring 2020 semester at Trevecca.
When the university announced that all classes would be moved completely online for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester, Director of Online Learning, LaMetrius Daniels and her team of instructional designers knew they had to be quick and strategic when it came to helping faculty understand how to deliver remote instruction.
Normally, they would use a plan to approach online learning, but with the pandemic they had to steer away from the norm and come up with a way to make the technology accessible, easy and intuitive. Not just for students, but for faculty as well.
Daniels was excited, but also nervous. She wanted people to understand that what they were doing was simply a form of online learning and they had carefully and strategically put together instruction which was accessible.
There were many things to consider in making the change to remote learning. Students without good Wi-Fi, students who didn’t have the necessary equipment at home, everyone having access to the information, having technology which was mobile friendly, and that there was infrastructure in place capable of handling the bandwidth.
“That was going to impact our servers and our learning management system, as well as other technology that we use on campus,” she said.
Together with her team and two support specialists, they came together and focused on areas that they already specifically worked in. They developed training to help faculty get acclimated to online learning.
One form of training was a boot camp. They put together a 3-day boot camp where they highlighted 3 digital technology tools teachers could use in their classrooms. If teachers were interested in using a specific tool, they also did one-on-one training.
Faculty members were eager to get on board. Many of them were frustrated with this change, but the frustration wasn’t negative. It came from a place of concern for students and being properly equipped to continue to educate them. Everything revolved around the student experience, Daniels said.
Daniels and her team tried to empower faculty to feel confident with two or three tools that they could use consistently throughout the year. Once their confidence was established, they started to feel more comfortable in implementing the new technology in their remote instruction, she said.
Many faculty members were already using a learning management system, so they were able to teach and train other members.
University Provost, Tom Middendorf, helped lead faculty and students through the transition to virtual and hybrid learning.
He described it as one of the longest weeks of his entire professional career.
“In the middle of the crisis you’re almost a bit emotionally detached, because you have to make the necessary decisions and do what what’s right,” he said.
For Middendorf, it took almost three weeks for him to fully understand the decisions that were being made. He described it as a surreal experience, taking it all in, considering the options and analyzing the implications of such decisions.
“You’re not fully able to emotionally process it because of just going nonstop,” he added.
Paul Christianson, professor of music, had only taught online before as a third-party administrator, however, was not familiar with teaching online with his own setup.
He knew that a big adjustment was going to take place in a very short amount of time.
“You’re making a major move in the middle of the semester so there was a learning curve trying to make that adjustment,” said Christianson.
Another form of training faculty received was demonstration videos. Associate Vice President for Academic Services and Accreditation, Jonathan Bartling, worked closely with Daniels and hear team to provide a faculty bootcamp training module. This training module helped faculty develop content and was available for them to access anytime for instructional purposes.
The support specialist team was also able to answer questions and respond to faculty when they were experiencing issues.
When it came to implementing the technology, they wanted to make sure they focused on maintaining faculty and student connection.
“We wanted to make sure we focused on the faculty connecting with the students, because we did not want to lose that intimate culture that Trevecca has when it comes to teaching and learning. We still wanted to provide them with a holistic approach in education, so we did not want to get away from that mission. We wanted to make sure that whatever we were doing, we were going to maintain the quality of instruction. So we just had a thorough training plan to make sure that we did not take away from the rigor of our instruction,” said Daniels.
Middendorf acknowledges the hard work that went into condensing a 15-week curriculum into a 7-week format, as it was no easy task. Faculty were extremely flexible, rolled with the punches, and graciously accepted the challenge, he said.
They did everything they could such as working through logistics, securing equipment and ensuring that everyone had the necessary tools to be prepared for remote learning.
The I.T. Department also equipped every classroom with the necessary technology that could display the remote option for students.
Middendorf specifically recognized the efforts of Lena Welch, Daniels, and Bartling as they played a crucial role in the switch to remote learning.
“That’s the testimony of the type of people that we have at Trevecca. What we required of our faculty is next to insanity and we threw a lot at them along those lines, and they embraced it. They’re like superheroes in my opinion,” said Middendorf.
Faculty has been very creative and innovative since the switch to online learning. Many of them use tools such as VoiceThread, Flipgrid, Microsoft Teams or Blackboard Collaborate. Recorded videos have been highly beneficial for faculty, as some students cannot meet in real time so it’s helpful to have the recording to view later at their convenience.
Daniels believes some of these methods likely won’t go away since faculty has fully embraced the transition to remote instruction.
She hopes Trevecca’s faculty continues to be creative and innovative, and as they continue to develop and build their confidence on the tools they’ve been given, that they use their knowledge to allow students to become more engaged in the learning.
Throughout this process, Daniels said she values the learning community at Trevecca.
“I have a job where I work with the most amazing and graceful people. During the shift everybody was all hands on, everybody was willing to learn, and everybody was open to the process. Working with so many wonderful, great, loving people through this process and journey has been one of the greatest blessings for me,” she said. “Leadership has made some hard decisions, but they have made some good, tough decisions. To be able to continue to maintain enrollment infrastructure that stable, that barely went down during the pandemic compared to other universities? We just have a great, great team here art Trevecca.”
The biggest thing that Middendorf has learned from this experience is that the Trevecca community has a strong character and is resilient.
He is optimistic about the fall semester and hopes that the university will be able to return to a 15-week model. He described Trevecca as a community that never lost hope.
“That’s the aspect of the resiliency of this community that’s so beautiful. We are a community that believes God is at work, even in the middle of great tragedy and even in the middle of the most challenging times. There’s something about a community of faith that gives you hope for the future and gives you the strength to really deal with the difficult times. That doesn’t mean that we deal with it perfectly, but it means that there’s a greater hope for tomorrow,” he said.