By Ursula Pike, Associate Director, DigiTex
Moving a face-to-face course online requires more than flipping a switch. There are technical and pedagogical trainings, course shells to be developed, syllabi to upload, someone needs to figure out how to deliver — and possibly proctor — an exam online, and what seems like a million other tasks. IT staff, Learning Management System technicians, Deans, Department Chairs, Instructional Designers, and faculty are all working together in the herculean effort to move entire colleges online. At some smaller colleges, one person is filling all those roles. I wanted to talk to the faculty and staff from Texas community colleges doing the work to make this move possible.
As I prepared to approach them, I wondered what to call this thing we’re all going through. There isn’t an agreed upon term for what’s happening right now. “Unprecedented situation” is a phrase I’ve used repeatedly, but that is too vague. The problem in finding one term is that we are dealing with multiple unprecedented situations simultaneously. There is the health crisis, a growing economic crisis, and for colleges and universities, the challenge of moving hundreds of face-to-face courses online in a few weeks.
I was fortunate to find a few people doing this work who were willing to take time out of their busy schedules to answer my questions. What surprised me the most were the positive attitudes many have, the hope for the future, and how much everyone relies on schedules.
Ignacio Martinez Escobedo is an Instructional Technologist in the Department of Educational Technology and Online Learning at Texas Southmost College. TSC is located in Brownsville, less than a mile from the Gateway International Bridge which crosses the Rio Grande River and leads into Mexico. Ignacio teaches faculty how to teach online and how to use technology to enhance the student experience in the classroom. He has been working in online/distance education for seven years. “Surreal” is the word that best represents, according to Ignacio, what the last month has meant to him. Since Texas Southmost College moved all of their courses online in March, Ignacio has trained over 100 faculty members. The best way Ignacio has found to stay balanced through this situation is to establish a schedule: “I keep reminding myself that working from home does not mean I am working all day. I keep a work schedule.” Ignacio and Texas Southmost College have a new understanding of the importance of his role at the college and distance education.
Dr. Chantae Recasner is the Dean for Academic Success and Learning Resources at Alamo Colleges’ Northeast Lakeview College in Universal City, a suburb of San Antonio. Every day she works to reinforce her college’s academic resources infrastructure to provide a web of support for students beyond the classroom and within various modalities of instruction. Dr. Recasner has been involved with online education for about eight years, first as a faculty member teaching online courses, then as a faculty development leader, and now as a Dean. When I asked Dr. Recasner what word or phrase best represents what the last month has been like for her she told me, “There’s a gospel song …[that] simply says, ‘The ordinary just won’t do!’ It’s both comforting for me because it shifts my expectations and allows me to peacefully receive chaos and change, and it also motivates me to push into the unfamiliar.” Like Ignacio, Dr. Recasner has found that a schedule and a white board to manage her multiple tasks helps maintain balance. “I go for walks, and I pray… a LOT!”
Charlotte Gullick is the Chair of Austin Community College District’s Creative Writing Department. Charlotte teaches creative writing classes, leads creative writing faculty in the department, and is responsible for all administrative requirements for the department. Despite nine years of experience teaching online courses, Charlotte has found the last month and a half exhausting – which surprised her given her experience. But the use of new modalities and rapidly switching her face-to-face classes online was challenging. She worries how this experience is for the instructors who are new to online instruction. Keeping a clear schedule has helped Charlotte maintain balance. Charlotte also said, “Knowing that I cannot re-create the face-to-face experience for students has been helpful.” Reading online forums from other instructors, reaching out to support the faculty in her department, and attending equity webinars put on by groups such as the Center for Organizational Responsibility and Advancement (CORA) has been helpful for Charlotte. Adjunct faculty are also on Charlotte’s mind. “They already have so many worries and it doesn’t seem like we are doing much to support their emotional needs. Of course, full-time faculty have emotional needs as well but at least they have job security at this moment.”
Dr. Miles G. Young is the Director of Distance Education & Dual Credit at Northeast Texas Community College in Mount Pleasant, Texas, about 50 miles from both the Louisiana and Oklahoma state lines. Dr. Young has a decade of experience in online education and is primarily responsible for the quality delivery of online instruction at NTCC through overseeing Quality Matters initiatives and other means of instructional design/delivery. He is also responsible for all aspects of dual credit instruction, including admissions, registration and financial aid. For Dr. Young, the last month and a half has been “like flying a plane while it’s still being built.” Taking breaks from work has been important and he credits Game Show Network with helping maintain his sanity. Dr. Young thinks the current situation “has highlighted the resiliency of society, broadly, but higher education especially. It is pretty evident that students have stepped up to the plate as well and adapted … to this sudden and tremendous disruption.”
DigiTex wants all of you out there, no matter your role, to know how much we appreciate your work for the students and communities of Texas, now and always. I’ll end this post by sharing something Dr. Recasner said: “I think times like now drive us back to our missions. Who are we? Who are we serving? What’s our purpose as organizations? Even in education we can get consumed with the business of our industry—significant data points, strategic initiatives, budgets. But this pandemic has centered people in education! Care is fundamental. Compassion is necessary. Equity mindedness is in demand. We just might come out of this as better people and thus better organizations. I see great innovation on the horizon!”