WSU Adjusts to Online Learning to Continue Educational Mission During Pandemic
OGDEN, Utah – In response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, Weber State University announced on March 26 that summer semester will be held online and in a virtual format. WSU Online has spent many years preparing for an emergency that would require all classes to be taught remotely.
For summer 2020, classes will be offered in two formats. The first option will be traditional online courses which use asynchronous teaching methods — in other words, students and faculty interact online at different times. The second format will be a virtual method, which may have specific times where the class meets together using online conferencing tools.
“Both methods allow for deep learning and both have strengths and drawbacks,” said Brett Perozzi, Student Affairs vice president. “I encourage students to reach out to their faculty if they have questions or concerns about these formats. This is an unprecedented time, but I’m impressed with the continued flexibility, resilience and grace our students and faculty have shown through it all.”
In response COVID-19, WSU faculty have spent the last two weeks working to transition a primarily face-to-face campus to an online-learning institution.
“We were ready prior to this situation to offer online services to every faculty member on campus.” said RC Callahan, director of WSU Online. “Each semester, we provide a space in our online instruction tool called Canvas, so faculty members can create an online course if they choose to do so. This emergency certainly helped us test our capacity to fully use the tools we already had in place.”
In just a matter of days, the WSU Online team worked to help all Weber State faculty move their courses online. The team, made up of four designers and the director, helped faculty understand tools for teaching remotely and navigate a time of uncertainty.
Communication professor Colleen Packer who directs the Teaching & Learning Forum called for help from the WSU Online team the minute she learned about classes moving online.
“When we found out we were going online, I needed to get some presentation lectures on Canvas,” Packer said. “I hated to call because I knew they were swamped. But they worked all weekend. Mike Mitchell, an instructional designer, sat with me in the Do It Yourself Lab on Saturday and taught me how to do a narrated PowerPoint. There’s no way this would have happened if he hadn't been able to work with me. He was so patient. Seriously, they have been just so good to help.”
Each day the online team helps resolve issues and improve the offerings. But the structure was ready to go. They will continue to work with faculty to make improvements throughout the summer.
English instructor Becky Marchant says the move online was made easier because of all the tools WSU Online had provided previous to the emergency.
“Over the years they have trained me in using many helpful tools and offered specific, detailed feedback on my journey to become an effective teacher in an online environment,” Marchant explained. “During the current health crisis, WSU Online has been called on to provide unprecedented levels of help and has truly come through for the WSU community.”
While classes were suspended from March 13-17, an information session was offered, first in person, and then through a Zoom phone call to provide faculty with additional help making the move online. The discussions included topics such as Canvas navigation, utilization of collaborative tools like Google Meet, and how to create and upload video lectures.
In addition, a team of faculty coaches was formed to provide an extra layer of support and instruction. The team is made up of professors who have demonstrated prior capability using online teaching materials.
“A pandemic is nothing to be celebrated, but if I'm truthful, I'm thrilled that our amazing faculty are exploring innovative ways to teach online,” Callahan said.
To further aid faculty, WSU Online also created a landing page for faculty to find answers to common questions, tips for creating course work online and tools to help navigate the changes. Students can also visit the website to learn more and find tips for learning from home. For more information, visit weber.edu/online.
While faculty prepared to teach virtually, students also experienced a wave of fear and unknown. To help calm student worries, WSU Online assured students, facing a lack of available technology, that they could support them on a variety of devices.
“My big message to students right now is to take inventory of what kind of technology they have at home,” Callahan said. “We can support students whether they have a laptop, a mobile device like an iPad, or we can even support them if all they have is a smartphone.”
If a smartphone is the only device on hand, Callahan recommended students download the free Canvas app, available on Android and iOS operating systems.
“There's a student Canvas app they can download and pretty much do everything they need to do,” Callahan said. “It's not the best input tool, but if all else fails, students can get on that app, and we will support them. They can also take advantage of the various service providers offering free or discounted data plans during this time.”
With such rapid changes, students, faculty and staff have had to adjust to a new way of learning, but WSU Online has done everything in its power to ensure Weber State continues to be Great, Great, Great.
“We're just trying to do our best in a very short amount of time to make it through the end of the semester,” Callahan said. “It has been hard because we’ve had to make do with the time we had, but we are trying to make it work and give our students and faculty the help they need to finish strong.”
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