Feedback from the front lines

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Access to laptops and the internet are now recognized as key problems during many colleges’ transition from brick-and-mortar classrooms to remote learning, but a handful of faculty members this week provided their firsthand experiences in serving students who faced those challenges.

The faculty shared their experiences this week during a joint meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of Community College Trustees.

Tracy McCoy from Midlands Technical College (South Carolina) noted that the transition to remote learning was a challenge and uncovered issues with the capacity of the learning management system. To compensate, faculty used Zoom and was quickly able to meet the needs of the online learning environment.

Issues of academic integrity were brought up among faculty, and McCoy noted that they have developed ways to proctor exams via Zoom, which was shared with faculty.

A variety of approaches

Christine Arnold-Lourie from the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) shared her perspectives as both a teacher and the humanities coordinator. She had to determine the best way to transfer her own classes and assist adjunct faculty members in transitioning their classes. Arnold-Lourie worked together with faculty to develop assignments that would minimize academic integrity issues and used open-ended prompts on discussion boards.

In contrast to McCoy, Arnold-Lourie limited Zoom interactions to once per week to mitigate burn out among both teachers and students. She also added that she tries to incorporate fun into her online classes, noting that “fun is hard” but necessary to maintain engagement in an online setting.

Mott Community College’s (MCC) Vanessa Ferguson discussed the diversity among her students since the Michigan college serves a wide region that includes urban and rural areas. Ferguson noted that some students faced problems with access to broadband. Free internet was provided in the city areas, but rural students continue to face challenges, she said.

Mott’s technology department worked to get laptops to students who needed them, and the college delayed the summer session in order to provide time for training and preparation for students and staff to learn remotely. For staff, the time was used to convert classes to a new learning management system that was already in process prior to the pandemic.

When asked about the biggest challenges faculty faced, McCoy also noted the lack of broadband. Midlands Tech was able to strengthen its wifi in order to provide coverage in campus parking lots so students could attend remote classes.

Looking toward the fall

As they work to reopen the campus, McCoy said that college officials anticipate that 50 percent of students will be onsite in the fall. The college has been holding town hall-style meetings to answer student questions about campus life for the coming academic year.

Arnold-Lourie noted CSM faced many of the same concerns. She said that the college has prepared instructional “shells” for online classes to help faculty develop their remote teaching plans. In addition, it is working with the bookstore to provide electronic textbooks and/or free postage for traditional books.

While internet access was a common theme in the faculty comments, Ferguson noted that MCC will require laptops for students for the fall semester and will provide them to those in need. She added that faculty need to be aware of the needs of students if they require online face-to-face interactions.

“Many students do not want to show their homes or are participating in classes while at home with a lot of other people and may not have the privacy needed to share their screen,” Ferguson said. “Faculty need to be aware of and sympathetic to students’ circumstances.”

Terry Filicko of Clark State Community College (Ohio) reiterated the same point and added that providing laptops and access was important for many students.

“For anyone who thinks that smartphones are enough, I would ask them to try to write an essay on their phone,” she said.

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About the Author

Martha Parham
is senior vice president of public relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.