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A New Normal – How WC instructors and staff prepared to move classes online for the remainder of the spring semester

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“Adversity forces creativity.”

That’s how Tonya Piehl, Weatherford College respiratory care program director, summed up the past few weeks as faculty and staff have made the transition to all online classes for the remainder of the spring semester.

Faculty have learned different teaching methods, best practices, discovered new software and apps and created fresh material to meet student needs in a world of social distancing.

“This will all enhance and benefit our program in the future,” Piehl said. “The creative process, while challenging, has been exhilarating and at times, quite enjoyable.”

The transition to fully online began more than a month ago as college administrators began monitoring the COVID-19 situation and advised instructors to prepare for the potential change. Since all of WC’s classes, including face-to-face courses, have an online presence via the Canvas learning management system, this transition was not as difficult as it could have been.

“All of the full-time humanities instructors have taught at least one online course in the past, but we do have some faculty with more experience; so, those individuals have really contributed by commenting on both curriculum and technology,” said Dr. Dana Brewer, Humanities Department chair. “This is a strong, dedicated group of individuals, and we are all supporting each other.”

Similarly, departments across the college have spent the past two weeks conducting meetings via email or videoconference, sharing ideas about how to make this transition a success and developing creative solutions for labs, exams and lectures.

“The main point we want people to remember is to be patient with themselves and each other,” said Dr. Sarah Lock, associate dean of dual credit and eLearning. “This is a stressful time, and moving a face-to-face course into an online environment with a couple weeks’ notice is not the same thing as building an online course from the ground up. I am so honored to have colleagues who are creative and smart and dedicated to helping students succeed.”

While many faculty members have experience teaching courses online, there are others for whom this is a new adventure and their peers were quick to assist.

“We were able to pull a list of seasoned instructors and some really well-built classrooms that could be used for those instructors who did not have content currently,” said Cheryl Rodriguez, the college’s Canvas administrator. “Once we had that information, we were ready to jump in and start making it a reality.”

That reality includes long days with upwards of 200 emails hitting Rodriguez’s inbox along with phone calls and Skype meetings.

“We are prioritizing requests and dealing with the most critical first,” she said. “I can say that at the end of the day, which might be the evening, we have addressed every single request so far. I believe we are in a good position to help students when they start experiencing the new normal on Monday.”

One faculty member with experience in online lecture is Kelly Staub, sonography program clinical coordinator, who has used Screencast-O-Matic to record and share her lectures with students on Canvas for the past two years allowing students to relisten to lectures as needed.

With COVID-19 pushing classes online, Staub created a tutorial on how to use this tool which was picked up by the Texas Association of Community Colleges and shared to their website to help instructors across the state.

“Since I am familiar with the platform, I felt it was a way I could help in an extremely stressful time,” Staub said.

“The biggest challenges I am facing involve trying to help the second-year students cope with the disappointment and fear of the unknown. I want to give them clear answers and tell them everything will be okay, but I honestly don’t have answers. The sonography students have to take registries to secure a job, but all of the testing centers closed. This last part of the semester is when many of them would be offered jobs, but now that time has been robbed from them. Lots of tears were shed.”

The college’s Associate Degree Nursing program has faced similar challenges with clinical sites being shut down and instructors left to figure out new ways for students to meet course objectives in a distance education format.

Dr. Tola Plusnick, program director for WC’s new Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN) program, said nursing accrediting bodies are being proactive and allowing more clinical requirements to be offered via simulation. Students are downloading an app that allows them to record themselves performing skills such as patient interviews and exams with their household members.

“Overall, I think things are going well,” Plusnick said. “I am beyond proud of our students who are eager to continue their education and to get out into the workforce to help combat this and any future threats to the healthcare of our community, country and world.”

While the nursing program had access to pre-created online simulation tools, the reality was different in Piehl’s Respiratory Care program. Since the profession is much smaller than nursing there are not as many virtual simulation options, so the instructors developed their own.

Piehl credited the college’s advanced planning, allowing instructors to be proactive and take home equipment in order to record lectures and simulated labs from their homes. She said the department is working to record their labs quickly since there may be a local need to use WC’s ventilators.

“The students’ knowledge base will not be compromised,” Piehl said. “When we are able to return to the college, we will set aside a great deal of time for the students to practice these skills in the lab before we begin rendering care to patients in the hospitals.”

In addition to instructors preparing for a new normal, the college’s Technology Services Department has worked tirelessly the past few weeks to reconfigure computer labs and created a new testing lab in order to maintain social distancing for students without computer or Internet access in their homes. They also worked over Spring Break to distribute laptops to WC employees in need and are developing Wi-Fi hot spots so students can access the college’s network from their vehicles in campus parking lots.

Likewise, members of maintenance and sanitation vendor CBRE have worked to disinfect the campus and will clean the student computer labs each day to make sure they are safe.

“As stressful as this situation has been and even with the enormity of the threat that has driven us to make these sudden and drastic changes, I could not be prouder or feel better about this college than I do today,” said Mike Endy, vice president of instruction and student services. “There’s always been a lot to feel good about at Weatherford College. Most of that has been because of our people. Today, robbed of the trappings we have come to rely on to do our jobs, they have made it crystal clear. They are Weatherford College and they have every right to be proud and feel good about it.”