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Lesley Implements Plans for Making Online Learning More Accessible in Fall 2020

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, students and faculty members, many of whom had never participated in or taught an online course before, were thrust into entirely-remote learning for the first time. An adjustment period comes with such drastic, sudden change; as a result, many students reported facing technical difficulties in the Spring 2020 semester. Rising junior Christina Appignani faced issues with “connectivity [in] video call classrooms like Zoom or Blackboard Collaborate.” Because of the unreliability of students’ home Wi-Fi connections, students like Christina and fellow rising junior Kayrin Brower reported missing “major chunks of [their] classes” while dealing with and attempting to fix these lapses in Internet connection. This led to them missing out on valuable information as it was being delivered by their professors.

Additionally, the online classroom software that many professors utilized, Blackboard Collaborate, was inaccessible on many Internet browsers. As rising junior Rachel Lyne reported, “[it] only worked on certain browsers, so I would have to try and join class at least five times on different browsers.” This was time-consuming as well as frustrating for students.

There were also difficulties on the faculty end. Rachel Lyne remarked that her professor’s Wi-Fi connection was once so bad in an online class “that twice we had to stop class because she couldn’t share a PowerPoint.” For LA+D faculty members, they had no way to supply their students with necessary film equipment without access to the Lunder Arts Center lock-up facilities. As one LA+D student reported, some were left using “basic phones [as a] replacement for film tech,” which was incredibly challenging.

Students and faculty alike wanted to learn and collaborate online, but when the pandemic hit, few possessed the skills, resources, and software to do it effectively.

For students, while there may not be an easy, one-size-fits-all solution for an unreliable home Wi-Fi connection, Randi Korn, Assistant Provost for Academic Success, has worked to make the process of securing online assistance and support easier than ever before for Lesley students.

In the spring, Korn sent out campus-wide emails with Weekly Academic Success Tips, advising students on everything from how to care for siblings or children at home while studying to how to prepare for final exams. This upcoming semester, she will be expanding on that concept with an entire Tips for Online Success page on Blackboard, making it easier for students to access that valuable information all semester long. Here, Korn has collected tips and tricks applicable to a wide variety of academic areas into separate folders, making getting additional assistance more accessible for students.

A folder labeled “Resources for Online Academic Support and Tutoring” provides directions to students on how to “[schedule] an online tutoring appointment” for additional support in their studies. Another folder boasts “free and low-cost resources for books and Internet access.” The “Reading for Academic Success” folder walks students through effective studying methods for exams. Other folders offer tools to help students in their college years and beyond, instructing them on how to “manage [their] time and beat procrastination,” “[develop] a growth mindset” and “flourish even when challenge increases,” and practice “meditation, self-care, and [mindfulness]” to reduce stress. Other folders are specifically designed to help first-year students, adult learners, and LA+D students adjust to an online environment.

Korn also “[oversees] Tutoring and Disability support,” so much of her work this summer has centered around “[ensuring that] students can access their accommodations and tutoring” from home. Her office plans to offer “virtual drop in sessions for students to do their homework” with the help of a peer tutor in the fall. For students with documented “physical, mental health, learning or cognitive” disabilities, the Disability Services Support staff is here to ensure that student needs can still be met online. In an online format, this might look like providing captioning or an interpreter in an online class “for a student who is Deaf,” or students being assigned a “note taker” to take class notes for them. She stresses that accommodations are still “available for the virtual environment;” her “staff is very creative and dedicated” to meeting students’ individual needs.

On the faculty end, Lesley’s eLearning and Instructional Support department, or eLIS, recognizes the challenges that online teaching posed last semester and aims to simplify the experience going forward. The department intends to “[promote] faculty leadership, vision, collaboration, and inquiry around the effective uses of technology in teaching, learning, and scholarship” by providing faculty with support and training to adapt to “online instruction.” eLIS began hosting virtual “workshops and drop in office hours” for faculty members in March, covering topics such as “Creating a Basic Course Structure in myLesley/Blackboard,” “Discussions: Synchronous, Asynchronous, and Blended,” and “Student Presentations and Feedback/Critique.” As the fall semester approaches, eLIS is still spearheading their initiative to ease faculty members into this “new normal” by continuing to hold similar online workshops. Drop-in hours for one-on-one assistance are still offered as well, now held on “Mondays and Thursdays, [from] 2PM-4PM” on Blackboard Collaborate.

A page on Lesley’s Information Technology website, “Resources for moving courses online,” also offers a bevy of PowerPoints, webinar trainings, video tutorials, and links for faculty members. The information is laid out in a timeline style, leading faculty through the process of surveying their students’ needs and revising their syllabus all the way to “Designing and Facilitating Online Discussions.”

Just because we’re apart from each other doesn’t mean that the quality of our classroom instruction and interaction has to suffer. While online instruction is not ideal by any means, it is promising to see that Lesley administration has been using the summer to better the virtual experience for both faculty and students, improving upon a rocky transition to remote instruction this past spring. As we all wait patiently for our return to campus, we can take solace in the fact that our online learning experience will be more efficient and accessible this fall than ever before.

Faculty members interested in better adapting their courses to an online format can email elis@lesley.edu to set up a one-on-one appointment.

 

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