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How WC is “Figuring Out How to do ‘Hands-on’ in a ‘Hands-off’ World”

It is 6:30 in the morning, and the alarm goes off. He sluggishly hits snooze. And hits it again 10 minutes later. And probably reaches to hit it a third time when he realizes he only has 10 minutes to get to swim practice.

He gets to the pool with a minute or two to spare and jumps in the seemingly ice-cold water to get his daily practice finished. 

After swimming would be a quick breakfast consisting of a granola bar and a quick coffee, if he worked up the strength to even go to class after such a hard workout. Then he would zoom across campus on his electric skateboard to get to his first class of the day.

There, Jared Shoemaker will soak in as much information as he can, eagerly wanting to learn whether he shows it or not.

What happens in his limited downtime will depend on the day. Shoemaker might eat lunch with friends at the T.O.P., or hang out in the Senior Studio in the Robinson Communication Center, or take photographs with his newest camera. He might even be spontaneous enough to take a roommate of his on a road trip to get sushi from a restaurant 40 minutes from campus.

Whatever the senior communication arts major would have chosen to do, he can no longer do any of it because Wilmington College has closed its main campus to students because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Shoemaker is one of the hundreds of students impacted by the closure of Wilmington College, and one of the thousands, if not millions, of seniors across the country impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wilmington College’s first step in responding to the coronavirus was on March 10 by closing its main campus for two weeks. The administration instructed faculty members to reconfigure their classes to accommodate the closure, and students were instructed to not return to campus until March 29. Only those workers deemed ‘essential’ would be permitted on campus.

Six days later, Jim Reynolds, the president of the college, announced that all in-person instruction will cease for the remainder of the spring semester and that students should vacate their on-campus residences by March 30.  

This created the need for a lot of adjustments—the way housing operated, how student life services would be offered, and how classes would continue. 

Classes could no longer meet in the classroom, but they could meet online. 

Students were asked to leave all on-campus housing by March 30. Photo Credit: Nick Wiget

Thus, the transition started. Erika Goodwin, the vice president for academic affairs, began coordinating with faculty to figure out which instructors needed training for online resources like Blackboard, Zoom, and Office Teams. 

“The faculty has been amazingly resilient in responding to the need to offer the curriculum to students who are not physically present in a traditional classroom,” said Cole Dawson, the associate vice president for academic affairs.

Area coordinators worked with Goodwin and their departments to create strategies for continuing instruction. Other faculty members volunteered to share their knowledge and expertise with their peers.

“My compliments to education faculty Jane Bogan, Career Services director Nina Talley and Student Resource Center manager Brook Edwards who really did a lot of work in leading the workshops and training others,” said Goodwin.

Bogan, an associate professor of education, has training in quality assurance certifications for online courses. Edwards compiled a list of online resources that pertained to online teaching. Both of them shared their abilities to help in the abrupt transition. 

Other staff members also stepped up to help both faculty and students through the transition.

Academic Affairs pushed back important dates such as the last day students could drop classes, the deadline to declare classes as “pass/fail,” and when students could begin registering for the upcoming fall semester.

The Records Office altered the process to drop classes by replacing paperwork with a simple email that students could send them.

The IT department became super involved. Goodwin listed several of their accomplishments such as creating a new “WC@Home” site that could be accessed off-campus, implementing Blackboard Collaborate and Microsoft Stream Cloud, providing telephone and email support to students, and loaning and buying equipment for students and faculty to use.

One of the biggest challenges during this transition was accommodating those students who did not have access to strong internet at their homes.

“Certainly, the biggest challenges have been in communication, both in terms of making sure everyone knew what the plan was as well as trying to support students and faculty who have connectivity problems. I was personally surprised to learn the number of students who, usually because of their locations, had limited or no internet connectivity,” said Dawson.

I was personally surprised to learn the number of students who, usually because of their locations, had limited or no internet connectivity.”

Cole Dawson

Academic Affairs began with a list of over 70 students who either reported connectivity problems or were named by the faculty to have not responded to them. As of April 7, that number was down to about a dozen students because of the collaborative work of faculty, Academic Affairs, and IT.

 “The top priority has been to make sure that students continue to receive the best education under these circumstances by supporting the faculty, exploring what other institutions are doing, and researching opportunities to engage with partners who can provide more resources. We have been told by some of our constituent and peer groups that we are doing very well, but we are always looking for ways to serve students better,” said Dawson. 

Despite the challenges, the main campus faculty were ready to offer 239 spring semester courses using alternative instruction by March 30. Only two courses were canceled, both of which were second session classes.

“The bottom line for me is that the faculty have been wonderful. They have been creative, engaged, and willing to do whatever it takes to help our students be successful in this last month of classes. Granted, things are not perfect, and there are issues now and again with both faculty and students, but we’re working through those the best we can,” said Goodwin.

But what does the transition from the classroom to the internet look like?

Some professors have chosen the online instruction path to continue classes. They hold Zoom conference calls with their classes at their normally-scheduled time to meet and give students an allotted time limit to complete tests and assignments.

Other professors have taken a nonsynchronous approach. 

They record videos of them lecturing, give students assignments with several days to complete them, and create discussion boards on Blackboard for students to participate in—all to be completed on time but at the students’ discretion.

“Some classes feel super organized while others are falling flat and feel thrown together without care. I feel like assigning big projects that previously did not exist is not the way to approach an online class—it almost feels lazy in a way. Others have continued instruction and lectures online and just rearranged how assignments are being completed. This feels like less of a burden and a more practical approach to this unique situation,” said Shoemaker.

Professors have the individual liberty of choosing the methods they use to continue their courses remotely. A lot of professors consider their students’ resources when deciding how to teach their courses.

“It has become abundantly clear that not all students have the same expertise with technology [and] have equal accessibility to the internet, word processing, and hardware that allows everyone to be on an equal playing field.  For instance, I have four students that do not have internet access at their homes or do not have laptops or computers easily accessible.  I’ve revised assignments so they can be completed via smartphone.  I’m proud of them so far, as they have been able to figure out ways to access videos and materials that allowed them to adequately respond, react, and move forward in developing their understanding or creative thinking skills,” said Wynn Alexander, a professor of theatre. 

The new method of instruction has changed how professors and students interact with each other.

“When I teach in the classroom, I answer questions as I’m teaching. Sometimes those are explicit questions, and sometimes I see confusion on people’s faces, so I try to answer questions that they cannot yet phrase. Teaching online, I cannot do this. So, my lessons are much shorter. I can see how people might think they need to teach more material because of this. I know some of my students are spending more time on my class because they are repeatedly watching the videos, searching for similar videos on YouTube, then video chatting with me to ask questions. We [as faculty] shouldn’t feel like we aren’t teaching enough because a recorded lesson is short. We definitely should not be teaching more material now than we’d planned to teach at the beginning of the semester,” said Liz Haynes-Wiget, an associate professor of mathematics.

We definitely should not be teaching more material now than we’d planned to teach at the beginning of the semester.”

Liz Haynes-Wiget

While some classes are easier to transition online than others, Wilmington College remains an institution that encourages “hands-on” learning. Several of its programs at times require instruction to be hands-on. Programs such as theatre, athletic training, agriculture, music, and education all have components that involve in-person instruction with tangible tools.

“We’ve all had to figure out how to do ‘hands-on’ in a ‘hands-off’ world. I’m still trying to figure out how those of us in the fine arts will move forward with very hands-on, applied courses. Acting, for instance. Yes, I’ve seen several examples of how to teach acting techniques online. None of which is as successful as true one-on-one, in-the-classroom, reacting-to-the-moment type of training,” said Alexander.

Other classes have found ways to substitute their tangible necessities. Classes like Drawing and Horticulture gave students materials to take home when they moved out of their on-campus residences. Brianna Matzke, an assistant professor of music, gave her students half-sized keyboards so that they can continue learning to play the piano.

Other programs have not been so lucky. Athletic training (AT) requires its students to serve clinical hours where they attend sports practices or work in the AT clinic and obtain very hands-on experience.

“The clinical experiences that have been missed this spring will be incorporated into next year’s clinical plan for the sophomores and juniors. The seniors all had their senior sports and internships but two. The two seniors with spring sports began their sports experiences but were cut short. They did, however, have enough clinical experiences to meet what is required,” said Jennifer Walker, an associate professor of athletic training.

Walker added that the AT program is still able to meet all of the requirements for its national accreditation.

The education program requires its students to student teach during their last semester. This student teaching relies on both Wilmington College and the host school where the student teaching is occurring.

“Student teaching has changed tremendously due to the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the world. I know our student teaching program has felt these effects. When I talk to some of my peers, they all say how much they miss their students and miss the routine of being in the classroom every day. The way my own experience has changed is that I was given access to Google Classroom and a school email. This allows me to still help my cooperating teacher plan activities and grade and allow students to email me if they have any questions or concerns on assignments,” said Tyler Barton, a senior education major.

Education majors that are graduating this semester have another hurdle ahead of them: they must pass all of the required examinations to receive their teaching licenses, but the testing centers are closed because of the coronavirus.

“I do have to wait to take one of my tests in order to apply for my license because all of the testing centers are closed. I was scheduled to take the test the day that everything got shut down. I have to wait and see what happens like everything lately,” said Kasey Bottorff, a senior education major.

“To be frank, the change [from in-person instruction] sucked. I already had a great rapport with the students, and for all of it to end so quickly is kind of a punch in the gut. It relieves some of the stress of lesson planning, but I would take that stress every day instead of being quarantined,” said Bottorff.

To be frank, the change [from in-person instruction] sucked. I already had a great rapport with the students, and for all of it to end so quickly is kind of a punch in the gut. It relieves some of the stress of lesson planning, but I would take that stress every day instead of being quarantined.”

Kasey Bottorff

Regardless of the area of study, students are receptive but disappointed in the new normal way education must be offered.

“I am pretty sad that we had to move to online teaching. Obviously, I understand the reason and I am grateful for the school’s concern about all of our safety and good health, but I wish we could have classes as normal,” said Eric Lundquist, a senior political science and economics double-major. 

Wilmington College, as of right now, will resume in-person classes in the fall. Summer classes at both the main campus and at the branch campus in Cincinnati will be offered only online. 

As the college community works through the challenges the coronavirus has presented to the world, they are asking themselves what the impact of the pandemic will be on campus.

“I do think there will be a new normal as we slowly move back into our regular routines. We now recognize that things can change quickly. I think we will develop ways to be adaptable ‘upfront’ for at least the foreseeable future.  I think this is a learning experience for all of us—for both professors and students. You came to WC for that ‘hands-on’ brand we represent.  I think that will always be our brand and our market.  However, I think we will continue to develop ways of doing that in a more ‘virtual’ way,” said Alexander.

Students may hold the key to how Wilmington College can change.

“Student feedback on their experiences with alternative learning methods this spring could be very helpful as faculty consider the way forward. If so, what some are saying about ‘things will never be the same’ may be true for Wilmington,” said Dawson.

For now, things are not the same for daily life. Under a period of social distancing, low-stocked grocery stores, and cheap gas prices with nowhere to go, people are thinking about when their hands-on world will return. Except for members of the class of 2020.

“I believe for some [people] they will move on like nothing ever happened, but for the senior class and some others, it will be kind of a bruise on our side that never goes away, filled with ‘what if’ and ‘I wish.’ Tragically for some, we won’t get to find out ‘what if.’ It will always remain a question for us,” said Shoemaker.

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