For MC students, the weeks following spring break are usually spent getting ready for tests and, for some, graduation. This semester, in the disconcerting climate of the national coronavirus pandemic, MC students and the whole College are rising to meet an altogether different and exceptionally challenging test – continuing teaching, learning, and other vital business of the College remotely to help ensure everyone stays safe.
The College campuses are closed until further notice, depending on guidance from public health authorities, but the College itself remains open. Instruction, advising, financial aid, tutoring, and other support services transitioned to a remote operating model.
“The biggest challenge to moving to online is getting people online,” said Dr. Brad Stewart, Vice President and Provost, Takoma Park/Silver Spring (TP/SS) Campus. “Our IT folks have done an amazing job of distributing technology to our faculty and staff. Mike Mills, Vice President, Office of E-Learning, Innovation, and Teaching Excellence (ELITE) and his team have been equally as amazing in provide training and support for the move online.”
The College has made web conferencing available to every MC employee for enhanced remote working and teaching. Over the course of about a week, the College provided more than 300 employees with laptops, mobile phones, and webcams to support instruction, student services and college operations.
The Office of E-Learning, Innovation and Teaching Excellence focuses on training faculty to use the various tools to deliver instruction online, whether courses are full remote, blended or face to face. To meet the challenge of all classes being taught online, the most immediate need has been getting all faculty comfortable with using Blackboard, a platform for providing remote instruction. While MC’s faculty are familiar with using Blackboard, the rapid transition to all-remote instruction presented new challenges. To meet this critical goal, ELITE created a number of training sessions, providing information to full-time and part-time faculty, to quickly ramp up alternative instructional delivery.
“We want to make the transition as easy as possible for both the students and the faculty,” said Michael Mills, vice president, ELITE.
Student logins to Blackboard surged to more than 70,000 in the first week of the transition to online instruction and advising; instructors logged in 6,550 times in the same period.
In addition to the challenge of training faculty in the tools they need for remote teaching and learning and moving instruction to that new format, communications has required tremendous 24/7 effort. “To describe this situation as fluid is an understatement,” said Margaret Latimer, vice president and provost, Germantown Campus. “Decisions made based on the best information at the time have been modified or reversed based on updated information and directives. We will be MC proud when this is all over.”
To support students in this new instructional environment, academic departments have created online communities within Blackboard in which students can access various types of supplemental content. Academic Learning Centers offer remote tutoring and the Achieving the Promise Academy coaches will be using videoconferencing to continue their one-on-one sessions with students.
“Faculty are especially focused on the quality of their instruction and wanting to ensure the students have an equivalent experience in this remote instructional modality,” said Dr. Kimberly Kelley, vice president and provost for the Rockville Campus. “The faculty are working hard to ensure students’ experiences are effective and successful in these difficult times.”
Students who need help with their studies need only sign up for an online chat sessions with faculty and peer tutors. MC offers help with assignments or a hand studying for tests. Each session lasts at least 30 minutes or longer, depending on tutor availability. Students only need to visit the Virtual Tutoring website for details on all of tutoring sessions.
Because of Coronavirus precautions, the College will not hold this year’s commencement exercises. The funds originally allocated for the many events associated with commencement, along with other funds, have been fully repurposed to provide $550,000 in assistance to students. “These funds go to a scholarship and grants account within the College’s operating budget to immediately assist students in need with tuition, fees, books, supplies and/or technology,” said David Sears, senior vice president for advancement and community engagement. “Leveraging more than half-a-million dollars to meet these student needs will be essential to help our students get through this pandemic.”
Within a week of the College’s announcement of the transition to online classes, the Montgomery College Foundation and its generous donors started providing assistance to students to address critical needs during the pandemic. That support includes the Foundation providing vouchers to a handful of students to purchase laptops through the College’s bookstore, thereby enabling them to have access to online classes. The Foundation also has supported a few students with software licenses necessary for their course work. Additionally, to help students who are losing income from the closure of a number of businesses and restaurants, the Foundation is providing 70 gift cards. These gift cards are made possible largely by a grant from the Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation for food assistance to students.
Of course, keeping the College community informed about all the changes, cancellations, new services, and support resources is critical to a smooth transition to the remote learning environment. From the first day of announcing the move to remote classes and advising, the MC website posted news and updates for students, faculty, and employees. The hub of this information, the coronavirus/COVIT-19 webpage, is updated many times each day, and was viewed almost 35,000 times in its first ten days online.
- MC and Its Foundation Are Helping Students with Tuition, Books and Laptops During the COVID-19 Crisis
Students have noticed all of this effort to maintain instruction and keep their educational goals on track. During the initial days of the transition, a member of MC’s student government expressed thanks to TP/SS Campus Provost Stewart. “On behalf of myself, TP/SS Student Senate and all MC students we would like to acknowledge and appreciate the excellent work that you all are doing during this trying time amidst the [coronavirus] pandemic,” said Semira D. Lesperance, student senator-at-large for the TP/SS Campus. “We need you all to know that the work you all are doing has not gone unnoticed. A heartfelt thank you!”
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