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Beginning of an Online Era At LCC

2020-03-23

This week, LCC is starting to operate in the online mode to its full extent. During such uncertain times, it is important to feel connected to the community, help seniors defend their theses, and remain calm. Andrew Jones, Assistant Professor from the Contemporary Communication Department, and Charity Givens, from the English Department, have shared some of their tips on online teaching, important advice to our seniors, and their view on the current situation.

Last week, LCC faculty have been figuring out ways on how to transfer their classes to an online format and helping students in various capacities. How are you feeling about the current situation and more importantly how are you adjusting to the new normal?
Charity Givens: I do not know what my reaction is. It is not the way that I typically like to have classes, even though I have done online work for a while. Sometimes it can be hard to be enthusiastic about this huge radical shift that is happening now for our institution. However, we tell our students that we want them to be independent and we want them to figure things out. This current situation is a great way to see how they can actually do that, not having immediate access to us. I think that students will be able to grow through this.

You appear quite prepared to teach online judging by the equipment available. How are you going to ensure that students get the same quality of education online as they would get it in person?
Charity: If I can jump in and answer that, I do not like making quality comparisons between online and in-person education just because they are different. I do not want to talk about quality in comparison. It is going to be different. However, they can still get a good quality education and good quality experience online. We cannot compare them, and that is difficult to do because human beings compare things naturally. If we start with how I can do the same thing that I was doing in my classroom online, that is going to make for a frustrating experience. It is a different media and there are different things that are happening. I think the focus needs to be on how I can create a quality remote learning educational experience.

Andrew Jones: It will be difficult to create high-quality online course material in the timeframe that we have available. No one could have predicted this would happen. We will do the best we can with what we have available. LCC is not an online university, and making this shift will not make LCC into an online university. Remote learning is not ideal for our institutional goals or aims, in my opinion. What we are doing now is continuing to provide a service for our students given an unprecedented pandemic. We are still in an emerging situation, a lot of things will be developing over time. As for my courses, I know they are now going to be different than I envisioned them at the beginning of the semester.

In times like this, it might be challenging for our students to accept and to adjust to the current situation. Do you think the next six weeks of online learning will help students feel that they finished their courses successfully and grew in their knowledge?
Andrew:
This is a difficult question to answer, let me instead refer to some of the tools that we have available to use. On Moodle, there is a grading rubric that is designed to evaluate student work in meeting learning objectives as stated on the syllabi. Essentially, we have different levels of mastery in coursework. In the sudden switch to only online courses, I am anticipating all students will at the very least be at satisfactory mastery, which is a lower level for the learning outcomes. Students will still receive a full educational experience and mastery levels in their coursework. If I am speaking about seniors particularly those who have been at LCC for more than 3.5 years, they have already benefited from the vast majority of the experiences that LCC had to offer. They will be prepared to go off into the world and be successful. For instance, Communication majors have taken a Web Design class with Mike Henry from our department. During his course, they learned about remote work, and as we see events unfolding now, more and more people are being asked to work remotely, even if they have never done it before. Already our LCC students are better prepared to enter the real world having completed their studies.

Charity, you have 10 years of experience teaching online. What are some of the challenges our faculty might come across when moving their classes online and trying to figure out communication through online channels?
First, the important thing to remember is the way that you communicate with students, and to balance it with over-communication. Part of the issue in transitioning to an online environment is not over-communicating with the students because they will get overwhelmed. Also important is how you package the information. In my class, on Moodle, there will be a weekly announcement, updated every Sunday, which is going to help plan the rest of the week. This already reduces the necessity of emailing students daily to inform them about every change.
Second, an important aspect of online teaching is creating a community, which can be difficult to do online. This is where it is helpful to use different community building ideas. I am using Moodle, where I posted an assignment description for the next paper that my students are going to be working on. Underneath that post, I have a forum where they can ask questions, after looking through other people’s questions before they can ask their own questions. This way they immediately see that they are not alone and it creates a bit of interactivity in that online space. I will be using other channels of communication as well, but carefully, as it should not be overwhelming for students in terms of where they receive the information from.

Third, is to create a sense of community with you directly, the professor. One great feature of Turnitin is to be able to record voice feedback. When students can't see their professor face to face, only seeing written comments on everything can be confusing. By using other media and giving verbal feedback can also maintain that sense of community and presence. It helps underline the idea that there is an actual person on the other side of the screen. LCC has a reputation for building relationships and you can do that with online education as well. It just looks a little bit different. Again, I think the three key things are being organized with your communication, creating a sense of community within the class and student body on your available resources and then creating a sense of community with you, the professor, as you give feedback for students and help them move through the process.

You both are advisors to thesis students this year. What are some of the challenges that thesis students are going to face closer to the end of the semester and where should they find the motivation to keep working on their projects?
Charity: We will still have weekly meetings as we did before, but that might be in a different format. We might both be logged on to the Google doc at the same time and be commenting back and forth, or doing a video call to discuss face to face. There are numerous ways to maintain a routine. This is going to be a time for students to learn some self-direction, which can be kind of scary when it comes to a thesis. Establishing a routine and knowing that once a week, we will meet and talk through their progress will give a sense of security.

Andrew: In addition to being a thesis advisor, I am also a thesis course instructor for Communication majors. The three things that I would want to communicate with thesis students are the following. First, students should really be in the analysis and composition mode for their thesis work, meaning you have all the raw data. You have already presented your proposal for how you are going to analyze the data. Now, you are in the analyzing phase of the data you have already collected, whether that is analyzing a speech according to the methodology that you selected or whether that is analyzing the results of an experiment according to these statistical tools.
Second, stay on schedule. I always recommend that students spend half an hour to an hour per day writing their thesis. It is going to be particularly important at this time that you put limitations on your thesis work. It is better to work consistently and gradually with a scheduled time on your thesis, rather than spend five hours at a time working on it, and then burning out.

The third thing is the most important thing at this point in the semester. Students who are worried about their thesis are not really worried about their thesis. For the most part, they have a basic understanding of what they need to do. Their thesis is coming together quite well. They are worried about what happens after the thesis since it is a big symbol of the end of LCC and the beginning of the next season. I would just want to remind students who are worried about their thesis that the faculty understand and want to reassure students that there are many options available for you upon completion. Things will definitely be different in a post-COVID-19 world, but you are prepared and you are ready. It will take time. It may be difficult, but I have every expectation that you will succeed, just as you will succeed with a thesis. Also, as you spend some time working on your thesis, also consider spending some time polishing your CV. It is a good time to start thinking about how you are presenting yourself as a potential future employee.

How do you see LCC returning back to normal life in the Fall semester and do you think this whole situation has any kind of impact on current students?
Andrew: I would like to point out the importance of our LCC alumni support. Alumni support is particularly vital after this, for LCC to make a full recovery. It is not about the targeted #GivingTuesday campaign that we run on our website on the Alumni page: https://lcc.lt/lcc-alumni. Hopefully, it would be extremely meaningful, if our LCC students who go on to experience success as a result of their LCC education choose to give back for continued success for future students.

Charity: I know students have said that they are missing the class meetings together. Of course, especially for freshmen, this is happening right at the beginning of their studies and it seems shocking. My hope is that the online classes will be successful and we get the job done, and at the same time students will be waiting until we can get back to full student life on campus. There will be challenges, of course, but LCC has done a great job building a strong community that teaches other values and not just learning outcomes from the classes. I believe these values will be the reason our students would want to come back to for the Fall semester.

Any last words of encouragement for LCC faculty for the next six weeks of online teaching?
Charity: I would like to remind our professors that there are some really good resources on the Moodle faculty development page about online education. Also, the need for community aspect is not just a student need, but also for the professors. Keep in touch with other faculty and staff, ask questions and share highs and lows about this online process. We are stronger together.

Cover photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

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