Distance Education supports Gavilan College through the rolling demands of a pandemicby Jan Janes on Aug 10, 2020
A team of three people in Gavilan College’s Distance Education department anticipated online instruction delivery needs and turned on a dime to deliver training, to both faculty and students, when the Shelter in Place (SIP) order was issued by the Santa Clara County Health Department.
Sabrina Lawrence, DE Coordinator, Peter Howell, DE instructor, and Aleah Kropholler,
Library instructional design, all work with administration, faculty and students to
deliver instruction online.
Gavilan College, big on student support and heart
Sabrina Lawrence, Distance Education (DE) Coordinator, has led the department since 2006, exploring new tools for instruction and offering training sessions for faculty in the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC). Peter Howell has worked on web platforms, taught high school math, developed curriculum and taught CSIS courses at Gavilan prior to joining DE. Aleah Kropholler started with Gavilan as a part time reference librarian working evenings two years ago. She transitioned to focus on the $500K Career Education Pathways grant, working with faculty to redesign online certificate programs in seven key programs.
In coordination with many departments and the administration, the trio sensed the urgency and immediately responded to the shifting needs of faculty and students. The DE student worker, Emma Terreforte, offered student support using the online program Cranium Café.
“About 10 to 12 colleges I heard about planned to shut down, prepare, then reopen,” said Lawrence. “Some closed from one to three weeks before coming back fully online.”
As a result of DE insights and actions, Gavilan College was the only area community college back up and running 48 hours after SIP.
“The dedication our instructors showed to our students reflected why you all teach at community college,” she said. “Students need this dedication."
Flashback to 2009, remember H1N1?
Sabrina Lawrence had been in her position for a few years when the threat of an earlier virus, 2009 Swine flu H1N1, appeared. While in retrospect the H1N1 flu did not create any greater risk of serious illness than seasonal flu, public health officials had expressed concern about a pandemic.
“We had Moodle then, Canvas now. I knew we had the capability to host online instruction if it was needed. I let the acting VP know, and emailed everyone to get to know Moodle,” said Lawrence. “That was always at the back of my mind. Wildfire? Earthquake? There are so many reasons you might need to move everything online.”
To close, or not: Decision and date in flux
As word, and sometimes rumors, spread, DE sent their first campuswide email in early March after conferring with VPAA Denée Pescarmona about emergency procedures, blanket curriculum approvals to move courses online and preparing systems.
Even as the campus remained open, DE ensured that every Spring 2020 course was uploaded on iLearn, the college’s chosen online platform, and was populated with the student rosters. DE also
- Shared information on how to prepare students to get on iLearn if they weren’t already
- Posted an online, self-paced course that faculty new to online delivery could enroll in
- Offered links to additional tutorials for instructors
- Directed instructors to a link for free web conferencing Zoom accounts
- Opened TLC for one-to-one training with instructors
Abrupt pivot – SIP, and the college closed at midnight Monday, March 16
Faculty visited the TLC to get trained on Monday once the SIP announcement was sent.
“Tuesday, with the campus closed, we were all working like crazy,” said Lawrence. “We did it remotely with Zoom, email, phone calls, texting.”
“Every instructor we spoke to in the first 72 hours did everything, including 12-hour days, to get classes online so students had continuing educational experience,” she said.
"Faculty did the heavy lifting, weren’t going to let students down. They were the other moving part.”
“We’ll be back after Spring Break”
“We thought this would be over in a couple of weeks. Instead we have just continued to extend everything," said Lawrence. “Most days, we are on Zoom from 8:00 a.m., off at 5:00 p.m., and then follow up with lots of emails.”
VPAA Pescarmona was just about to finalize the summer schedule when the pandemic hit. Decisions were made to offer online-only classes for summer, online-mostly for fall.
For the initial emergency, the state gave approval for blank emergency DE curriculum approval, March 17 through the end of the spring semester.
Title V Education Code required that summer courses receive approval through curriculum process. In addition to learning how to migrate content to iLearn and teach online, instructors had to fulfill curriculum changes.
“I have lots of respect for these teachers, especially for those who have been reluctant, a tough situation,” said Howell. “Your first year of teaching is brutal, hardest in your entire life. This situation is like the first year of teaching, all over again, on the fly.”
“As community college teachers we don’t get training, because it isn’t required,” he said. “I teach teachers how to teach in this new medium. What are the techniques that lead to learning through or over the computer? How do students best learn online?”
Curriculum updates required, online teaching ongoing = ‘organized overload’
DE set to work immediately to support online curriculum updates.
Of more than 750 available classes at Gavilan, some already had DE approval, and some had duplicate sections. Approximately 165-175 courses scheduled for the fall will need to update the curriculum with an online DE addendum.
“It must happen, because it affects accreditation,” said Lawrence. “With summer online classes, there was no more emergency blanket addendum from the state.” This created more hoops for instructors, deans and the Curriculum Committee to jump through.
For summer and fall, Gavilan could still deliver online classes as long as curriculum was updated and approved no later than Dec 31. It will be done department by department, with groups going through the DE curriculum update addendum process in each of the four final months of 2020.
“James Ghiorizi, Curriculum Specialist, has developed a special DE addendum only,” said Lawrence. “If the class is not on its scheduled five-year review, instructors can just fill out the DE addendum.” In her role with DE, Lawrence is on the Curriculum Committee, and all classes with a DE component must be reviewed by her.
In a pandemic, what do students do? What do students need?
“We now have firsthand, real world experience,” said Lawrence. “New moving parts we are learning to think about. We weren’t prepared for something of this magnitude. We always thought students could get Internet from somewhere.”
Many Gavilan students rely on campus services for Internet and access to computers. Beginning early in SIP, the IT department procured Wi-Fi hotspots and loaded software onto new laptop computers, loaning them out to students in conjunction with the college’s free food drives.
“In the current pandemic, we conceptualize that the library is always more than the building,” said Kropholler. “The people are vitally important. How do we provide library services, all the time? How do we make the services as accessible as possible to everyone?”
Gavilan Online Teacher Training (GOTT): Summer classes prepare faculty for fall
To train instructors for summer and fall online instruction, DE prepared two courses for instructors and sent out a notification in early May. All three DE staff teach all of the content, Faculty become the students, learning how to create online instruction while simultaneously navigating an online environment.
“With the current generation, moving forward online is integrated into everything they do,” said Kropholler. “We need to integrate that into the educational system as well.”
Howell noted the differences between teaching classes in English, sociology, water treatment, yoga, or graphic design. “The things students are learning are so diverse, you have to treat them, construct them differently.”
“At the beginning of SIP, I heard comments from instructors about failing their students, failing themselves,” said Kropholler. “The best thing I can do in instructional design is make those places a little more familiar. Creating the safest space possible was one of the things we tried to do with GOTT.”
DE offered seven two-week GOTT 1 sessions, consisting of 20 hours of facilitated training. Successful completion earns certification as iLearn Pro. The class focuses on the nuts and bolts of using Canvas: pages, assignments, gradebook, quiz, studio, zoom and accessibility.
“I wrote most of it last two years, a class in five sections,” said Howell. “When March hit, Sabrina and I came together, took the material that had evolved into the standard initial training. What we are teaching is the current iteration of it.”
A final GOTT 1 summer session will start Aug 17, the last one eligible for a CARES stipend. GOTT 1 trainings will continue in the fall.
DE offered three four-week GOTT 2 sessions that included 40 hour facilitated training. Successful completion earns certification as Online Teacher Pro. The materials focus on careful planning and intentional design. Deliverables include building learning modules, grading assignments, accounts, discussions, embedding video, building in student support resources.
Gavilan instructors rushed to apply, surpassing DE staff’s expectations.
“The Online Network of Educators, @ONE, was the basis for the GOTT 2 training,” said Howell. “It is a great, open-source resource. We took the best of what they have to offer and mixed it in with Gavilan’s program. It is a new model of online teaching, the role of the teacher shifts to guide the student through the materials.”
As August winds down, GOTT 1 has 108 instructors who have passed and 25 still in training. GOTT 2 has 88 instructors who have passed and 64 still in training. Some instructors took both, so a total of 154 instructors will have completed the training before fall classes begin.
Stipends were awarded to faculty using funds from the CARES Act and negotiated with the Gavilan College Faculty Association. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed by Congress and signed into law in March, 2020.
“Some of Gavilan faculty teach at a variety of community colleges,” said Lawrence. “Most community colleges are requiring part-time instructors to have training before teaching fall classes.”
“The training we are doing now will reverberate ten years out,” said Howell. “Even when we get back into the classroom, instructors will be so much more capable, in terms of flexibility.”
Students who are already comfortable online can work through their pathways faster and be better equipped to navigate and earn their degrees. The college will be better equipped to offer those classes.
This fall, instructors new to online teaching can have Online Teaching Mentors embedded in their classes. The mentors have at least 40 hours of training through @ONE. The mentors work to ensure online courses align with Academic Senate adopted course design standards developed by CVC-OEI consortium, of which Gavilan is a member. The CARES Act pays the mentors a stipend for their time.
Learning the pandemic’s lessons
“The pandemic has taught us to not get complacent,” said Lawrence. “To invite new people who can help explore fresh perspectives. We need to take a look at each department and ask, ‘Where do we need to be?’”
“I hope we learn that we can’t avoid technology any longer,” she said. “The grace period of not using technology has changed, and students need to be able to use the tools they will encounter at CSUs, UCs, and in their careers.”
“One of the silver linings, the benefits of this crazy situation may be that the quiet ones in class are able to speak up, be heard, participate more fully in the online classes,” said Howell. “That could be a game changer, for a generation that is off the charts with anxiety and depression.”
CVC-OEI standards and Gavilan’s Academic Senate emphasize the importance of effective contact. In their online classes, instructors must design and facilitate those moments of exchange so the class has more engagement between instructor and student, student to instructor, and student to student.
“In our online classes, how do we simulate a face-to-face environment, warm and inviting?” asked Kropholler. “As people, how do we translate the warmth and communication we bring to the physical classroom into the online classroom?”
“This is no longer an emergency,” said Lawrence. “Teachers know they need to learn this new mode of instruction to deliver good education to their students.”