UNC Greensboro’s Bryan School of Business and Economics has always had a culture of caring when it comes to its students, something that became even more meaningful during the dramatic educational shift spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the pandemic, the Bryan School had more than 20% of its undergraduate and more than half of its graduate students enrolled in online education. But for many students and faculty members, COVID-19 brought with it their first experience with online learning. For those individuals, it had to happen almost overnight.
“As we transitioned to remote learning, one thing we tried to instill in our faculty was that it’s important to be smart in the way we’re educating students, but also kind and generous,” says Bryan School Instructional Technology Consultant and Lecturer Dr. Aprille Black.
Having paid for faculty access to Zoom as it has grown its online course offerings, the Bryan School was well prepared technologically, with many faculty members already Zoom-trained. Black and her colleague, Instructional Technology Consultant and Lecturer Dr. Robert Owens, had also been working to improve online courses in a very focused way for many years.
“We have been working with our faculty on how to best promote student learning and engagement in online courses and emphasizing the concept that the most important part of the structure of online course design is that students can access assignments,” Black says. “For faculty who hadn’t prepared or taught online courses, the transition to remote teaching was a whole new ballgame. You may be a subject matter expert, but you also need to find the best ways to engage students in this very different format.”
Black says the first hurdle in the transition was showing faculty how to organize their courses with content modules and content pages. Organization and structure allow students to be able to access content easily without wasting time searching for it. As faculty learned this process, they became “choir members” for online and remote course design.
Black’s and Owens’ expertise also became increasingly important. For their efforts, they were recognized with the Bryan School Staff Excellence Award in 2020.
“I am a Quality Matters-certified peer reviewer, a master reviewer, and an Improving Your Online Course facilitator,” Owens says. “My role did not change during the pandemic; it scaled. The pandemic felt like going from zero to 60 in a matter of seconds. All of a sudden, instructional designers across the university were tasked with teaching and supporting all faculty because they were all teaching remotely.”
Owens says he’s proud of the educators who took up the challenge of changing their teaching habits in “a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.”
GETTING IN SYNC
Faculty delivered their remote courses in various ways. Asynchronous learning modules allowed students to access course materials and recorded lectures, ask questions, and practice their skills through assignments on their own schedule. Synchronous learning required attendance at live-streamed lectures. Using Zoom, students could participate in group discussions, work together on assignments, and ask questions. If faculty were teaching asynchronously, Black and Owens still emphasized the importance of offering virtual office hours to allow for one-on-one dialogue.
Black credits students and faculty for their resilience. Even those who’d previously been very resistant to the idea of teaching online learned new skills and software, created videos, delivered synchronous online lectures, and embedded quiz questions and other participation tools in those lectures to ensure that students were staying engaged.
“It was a difficult situation that demanded adaptation, and even those faculty who previously had not taught online gave their very best efforts to ensure that students received the education they deserve,” Black says.