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We Own This Space

Before COVID-19, big changes were anticipated for the world of higher education. Don’t look now—they are already here, particularly in the area of online learning.

“Engagement is one of the pillars in online learning. In a thoughtfully built online course, the interactions between student and student and student and faculty member are at the core of the experience.” Peter Testori, associate dean of Learning Resources & Academic Support Services and assistant coordinator of Title IX.

 

The Online Learning Space

For years, online learning was one of the most contentious areas of debate in the academic world. Each side had its advocates and detractors. For some educators, nothing could replace the in-class experience. Online learning was neither vigorous nor robust. For others, the virtual space allowed them as faculty to connect with students in new and surprisingly profound ways. Moreover, online learning was flexible and adaptable, reaching more students who would not be able to follow the traditional avenues for earning a college degree.

Then, COVID-19 changed everything. Midway through the 2020 spring semester, colleges and universities across the country migrated to the online platform, not in months but in days and weeks. There was no choice.

A recent survey study (released April 2020) conducted by Bay View Analytics (formerly the Babson Survey Research Group) asked 826 higher education faculty and administrators across 641 institutions within the United States about their transition to emergency online learning. The results were insightful:

  • 97 percent of institutions moving classes online had to call on faculty with no previous online teaching experience.
  • 50 percent of institutions had at least some faculty with online teaching experience.

More importantly, one-third of colleges and universities nationally had offered no or few online courses before the crisis. Many were ill-prepared for the challenges brought on by the pandemic, not to mention the future.

No wonder students, families, and others were questioning the state of higher education.

 

At Bay Path, We Own This Space

If Bay View Analytics had asked Bay Path about our experiences in the online learning transition, we would have provided far different answers. For years, Bay Path has been offering graduate degrees completely online, and The American Women’s College developed the Social Online Universal Learning platform, a learning system that has earned accolades for thoughtfully and intentionally building quality learning experiences that include active engagement. Online learning wasn’t a strange and unwieldy beast. Rather, Bay Path’s early entry into distance learning has given us a leg up on the competition.

Undoubtedly, shifting teaching styles and moving from the physical classroom to the virtual space was a challenge for some Bay Path faculty. However, there were two things differentiating Bay Path from a number of other schools, placing us in an advantageous position. First, for some time, the practice and study of online learning and the use of technology had been part of faculty development through workshops, discussions, and presentations. Second, there were a large number of instructors who had experience with technology and online learning who were willing to share their knowledge and best practices with their peers. The groundwork was there to migrate totally to online learning.

Regardless of the implications of COVID-19, it’s not a stretch to state that online learning is here to stay. At Bay Path, we’ve known that for quite some time. Here are some of the faculty who are leading the charge. Each of them brings his or her own perspective to online learning.

 

Technology is in His Comfort Zone

Dr. Tom Menella
Associate Professor of Biology
Director of MS in Applied Laboratory Science & Operations

“Even before COVID-19, I was implementing the flipped learning approach in the classroom. Students do the passive learning before class through lectures recorded on YouTube. In the classroom, we do deep, critical thinking activities based on the lectures. My role is to be a coach and guide. When the outbreak started happening, I immediately started thinking and planning. What am I going to do? My classes adapted cleanly, and I went completely asynchronous. I went truly online. The passive information was still on YouTube, but in-class activities became discussion threads in CANVAS. I have to say, the discussion threads were incredibly robust, and the students were engaged at an extraordinary level. As a faculty member, I had to put myself in there, but the results were astounding.” 

 

Always Looking for the Next Best Thing

Professor Gillian Amaral (Palmer) G’12
Assistant Professor of Management

 

“I’ve had previous experience teaching online, so when the time came to have all my classes online, I was prepared. Prior to COVID-19, I had taken the time to learn as much as possible about online learning. Right now, I am teaching my courses in a synchronous format. I have discovered that if I want to know what works for students, I have to be proactive, so I am not deterred from talking with other professors and students to learn what works and what doesn’t with online learning. I then take that knowledge and infuse it into the classroom. I’ve joined outside groups and do weekly Zoom meetings with professors at different universities. Everything is on the table. What tools, techniques, and other technology do you use? I take those tidbits and put them into my classrooms. I have to say, because they are business students and know technology, they have adapted extremely well.”

 

Online Learning Opens Up Opportunities

Dr. Sara Milillo
Senior Academic Director, The American Women’s College

 

“At The American Women’s College at Bay Path, all our courses were already online, so in a way, it was business as usual when COVID-19 forced schools to go to distance learning. Earlier in my career at a previous institution, I had migrated from the traditional teaching format to online. Why? I like new opportunities, and I have a strong sense of social justice. The more I learned about online learning and the more I worked with instructional designers—these are the magicians behind well-designed courses—I realized the potential for online learning. The reality is there are many people who cannot afford to go to college, or they have so many responsibilities the traditional route is not an option. Once a student is exposed to an intentional, thoughtful, and structured online course, his or her mindset changes about this style of learning. From both the faculty and the student perspective, online learning is all about mindset.”

 


Useful Terms

Hybrid: A blended course that takes advantage of the best features of both face-to-face and online learning.

Asynchronous: Online learning without real time—an example is discussion threads where students must post a number of interactions on their own time.

Synchronous: Online learning happening in real time, such as a Zoom lecture.

Instructional Designer (ID): Among their many responsibilities, IDs help faculty figure out how to best put their courses online and how to use the technology to connect with students.