Students didn’t need to be trained to do schoolwork online — something that has been commonplace at colleges and universities for over a decade now. But many professors at Wallace Community College had to take a course in how to teach their classes from a safe distance.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and Jimmy Baker, chancellor of the Alabama Community College System, suspended in-person classes for all community colleges until at least April 6 to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Officials at Wallace’s Dothan and Sparks campuses quickly organized a training session so professors could get accustomed to the technology that would help them deliver instruction to their students for the next few weeks.
“These training sessions provided information and assistance on using resources and testing products that will be incorporated into our courses as we continue to convert to an online format,” said Leslie Reeder, dean of instruction.
The instructor training was a collaborative effort between Information Technology Services and Instruction.
Reeder said that all of the courses Wallace offers are being offered online, to varying degrees.
“There are going to be portions of our courses that have a hands-on portion. Upon returning, we will extend lab hours so (students) will be able to complete those activities,” Reeder said.
In-person classes have been replaced with digital transmission of lectures, assignments, tests, quizzes and recorded demonstrations.
Professors were taught how to do everything via Blackboard, the college’s chosen learning management system. In lieu of in-person lectures, professors can record presentations and lectures for students or use synchronous software to lecture in real-time during a scheduled class time.
Wallace Community College student Grace Poynter described the beginning of the first week “very hectic.”
“But, toward the end of the week, it’s starting to calm down now that teachers know what they’re doing more,” she said. “It’s definitely been a learning experience for them and us.”
Professors are given flexibility on how to assign tests. They can instruct students to use Respondus, software that locks a student’s browser while taking a test to ensure its integrity, or allow their students to use books and materials. Alternatively, they can try to wait out the suspension to allow students to take tests upon their return to campus.
Wallace President Linda Young said they have decided not to require proctored exams because of costs that would be imposed on students.
“Through this crisis, we are educating our students how to meet challenges head-on and be better and stronger because of it,” Young said. “Over the last several days, I have watched so many of our faculty and staff work tirelessly to ensure the success of our students. They have ‘rolled with the punches’ and moved forward — exactly what I know we will all be doing in the days to come.”
Wallace is currently working with a skeleton crew, with essential personnel maintaining the campus and answering phones, while professors and nonessential staff are working remotely.
ITS staff repurposed laptops to support employees who do not have home computers, and they reallocated resources to support a remote operational presence.
All professors and counselors have virtual office hours so students know when their instructors will be online for questions or guidance.
“My instructors are in constant communication with us and use various tools to continue to hold classes and to assure all students are successful,” said Aleigh Lanier, a nursing major at Wallace. “Even though we can’t meet face to face, my study group continues to meet using Microsoft Teams. It is great to have to ability to continue to see each other and communicate during this time.”
Professors and students have access to extended Help Desk hours and how-to forums to guide their teaching and learning experience.
“This has just been a beautiful time that we’ve been able to collaborate,” Reeder said. “We have many courses offered online and have been offering those for quite some time, so it’s not totally new.”
Right now, the college is postponing tours of its campus while the impact of the coronavirus on the institution develops.
Young and Reeder both said they were aware of the possibility of college campuses remaining closed for the remainder of the spring semester, and that they’re working on options to help all of their students graduate on time.
“These are certainly unprecedented times, but they offer us a unique opportunity ‘to rise to the occasion’ and fully live out the mission of our calling as educators,” Young said. “And, make no mistake, we are all educators, from the first person a student encounters at WCCD in Admissions to security to maintenance and office staff.”
Essential personnel at the Wallace Campus in Dothan and the Sparks Campus in Eufaula are available from 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. Admissions, student affairs and financial aid are accessible online. Emails and voicemail messages are checked several times a day.
The WCC Help Desk, which provides technical assistance to WCCD faculty, staff, and students, will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Spring break is March 23-27, during which the Help Desk will close at 4:30 p.m. (Friday at 2 p.m.). ITS has also created a virtual desktop pool that will allow employees and students to access a Windows 10 desktop and needed software.