LEARNING ON THE FLY : and learning to fly with remote online instruction

LEARNING MODALITIES AT SCCC : A SERIES

where learning works badge with nameWhen COVID-19 forced a campus shutdown at Seward County Community College, instructors leaned in to the features of the college’s Learning Management System. Providing Remote Emergency Instruction required daily adjustments – and the reliably cheerful help desk expertise provided by SCCC team member Deedee Flax. 

Seward County Community College team member Deedee Flax has an official title: Computer Information Systems/Media Production Instructor and Canvas Learning Management System Administrator. But when the COVID-19 pandemic forced students and teachers out of the classroom into Remote Emergency Learning mode, Flax’s job suddenly shifted.

“I don’t know if you’d call her our coach, our cheerleader, or our crisis management counselor, but we couldn’t have done it without her,” said SCCC Vice President of Academics, Dr. Joe McCann. Throughout the second half of the spring 2020 semester, Flax staffed an unofficial but critically important faculty help desk, answering questions from students, fellow instructors, and administration.

While no one at SCCC — including Flax — had ever taught through a pandemic, the scenario of learning on the fly was familiar to the ad-hoc help desk staffer.

2f0cb499-1f3e-4d9a-8cb2-de7c09764df9“I think I have the benefit of being at the forefront in terms of my subject area. Being in CIS means I am used to technology changing all the time. It’s kind of exciting!”

CIS Instructor & Canvas LMS Administrator Deedee Flax

That positive attitude provided a welcome antidote to the sense of overwhelm that instructors and students felt as the COVID-19 situation intensified.

“Teaching plans are typically designed to teach one format, and the traditional method of face-to-face (sometimes called F2F) is what instructors experienced in their own education,” Flax pointed out. “Some of the classes have always just been lecture, reading, memorizing … and it can be hard to move that into a technology format.”

One detail working to the advantage of SCCC instructors was the presence of Canvas, the college’s Learning Management System. Colleges and many high schools have increasingly opted to use an LMS (such as Powerschool, Blackboard, Moodle, and more) for a computerized approach to gradebooks, lesson plans, and even assignment submission. Through the Canvas LMS and their student ID/login, SCCC students are able to check their progress in a class, communicate with instructors, and even complete required assignments.

“At the All Saints Days orientation and the First Year Seminar, both of which are required for students, we really stress the importance of logging in, checking email, and keeping up with Canvas posts by instructors,” said Dean of Student Success Annette Hackbarth-Onson. “SCCC was fortunate that students had Canvas. Canvas, along with the support of their instructors and the support that they in turn received from Deedee, was key for maximizing student engagement and spring semester completion during our emergency pandemic response.”

With the adoption of Remote Emergency Learning, all classes suddenly shifted to “Canvas only” access. Instead of classroom lectures, instructors taught by posting lecture notes, video files, or Zoom sessions at scheduled times, in an attempt to bring multiple students “together” in an online virtual classroom.

TEACHERS LEARN, REACH OUT

For everyone involved, the change was stressful.

“Having that person in front of you to readily ask questions is the best way for most students, and for instructors, too,” Flax said. In the real-life classroom, small movements that make a difference. “If I tell a joke, I can see immediately if it connects with the students. Online, we have another layer added to the challenge of engaging students to keep them interested.”

Sprenkle, who taught sections of photography I and II and Public Speaking in the spring semester, said remote emergency instruction methods required more time and attention than classroom instruction.

“When I have kids that aren’t responding or turning in assignments, I can’t just let it go,” she said. With the help of academic advisors, “I start trying to make contact and see what the problem is: unreliable Internet service? No laptop? Maybe they’re just not motivated.”

Sprenkle described an early batch of public-speaking assignment submissions as “Kidnap Videos.”

“It’s like the student  is forced to be in front of the camera, shows no emotion while reading from a paper propped next to the camera with rapid blinking. In one, I thought for a second it was really Morse code,” she said. But by the end of the semester, two of three students said they learned to like this type of learning.

One of the international students told Sprenkle she ended up liking Remote Emergency Instruction a lot because it gave her a chance to take it in at her own pace, “going back to replay the video, asking me questions without getting embarrassed or scared that she was slowing the class down,” she said. “She felt her English improved. And I agree. It did.“

The same could be said of the SCCC instructors themselves, who began the last months of teaching with the simple goal of getting students through the semester.

“I think our instructors have adapted pretty well,” said Flax. “The first week they were a little slow, but at SCCC the instructors are so dedicated to their students, they all shifted to the mentality of, “OK, this is what we’re going to do, let’s get it done.’”

PUZZLE ASSEMBLY & TROUBLESHOOTING

For Flax, the semester resonated nicely with her life experience.

“I started out in business, teaching office management, business law, and even previously worked as an intern for law enforcement,” said Flax, who earned her first college degree the in-person way, at St. Mary of the Plains College in Dodge City. “When I took my first computer programming course, it was just to keep up my skills as business and technology were changing. Something just clicked for me.

The instructor who was leaving the institution said, ‘I think you should apply for this position.’“ That was 25 years ago.

In the intervening time, Flax earned a master’s degree and honed her skills, volunteering for every test run of new technology.

“I’ve always volunteered for the pilots and worn more than one hat,” she said. “Being able to look at a problem, start at the beginning, figure out all the different pieces of what could go wrong, all of the things, troubleshooting …that is what excited me most.”

As SCCC prepares for a post-pandemic fall semester unlike any before, Flax’s enthusiasm is already serving as a catalyst for change.

“We’re getting excited about having students back on campus, which our Plan A,” said Dean of Instruction Luke Dowell. “Plan B is the back-up for the possibility of a resurgence of COVID-19, and the need to offer online options. Deedee has already laid the groundwork with our instructors, and that’s a huge plus for everyone.”

A QUICK ROUND-UP OF LEARNING MODALITIES: 

Traditional: Student meets face to face with an instructor in a traditional classroom or lab setting.

Supplemental: Student meets face to face with an instructor in a traditional classroom or lab setting, but resources, schedules, or other external classroom activities are available via the web or other digital format. 

RemoteStudent meets at a designated location, but the instructor lectures via interactive television or synchronous video. The instructor may or may not be in the same physical location as the student during class.  

Hybrid: Student meets in a traditional classroom or lab setting for part of the class, but also must participate regularly in online sessions using a course management system.

Fully Online: Student accesses classroom lecture, lab, assignments, or other materials via the web utilizing a course management system.  (EDUKAN and Seward Online).

BlendFlex: BlendFlex is an innovative course delivery method for select SCCC courses.  Flexible attendance options include attending:  on campus in a traditional face-to-face classroom setting, from a remote location using Zoom video technology, and/or online using Canvas.    

Leave a Reply