Meeting the needs of students, any way necessary

Posted: April 13, 2020

Like course coordinators across the university, Diana Kline had to figure out the best way to support students as they transitioned to remote learning during the coronavirus outbreak. In this case, there were a lot of students to think about, many in their first year. In addition, she needed to consider the international students who were returning to their countries only to be stuck in quarantine.

Kline oversees and teaches CSE 2111, a pre-requisite for business students that covers the basics of Microsoft Excel and Access. The course, which falls under the Computer Science and Engineering umbrella, serves more than 1,100 students in nine sections on the Columbus campus this semester, and another 200 on the regional campuses.

“It’s been a lot of work, but we have a great team of lecturers,” Kline said. “Overall, it’s been a smooth transition, and it certainly helped that one of the nine sections was already an online class.”

Besides Kline, the team includes Catherine McKinley, Laurie Crawford, Clair Farris and Mark Jackson on the Columbus campus, and Amber Rader in Mansfield, Fred Crowner in Newark, Nicoleta Roman in Lima and Nima Mansouri in Marion.

While the eight sections were being adapted for distance learning with the support of the college’s technology services department — a time McKinley describes as sleep-deprived 12-hour days — Associate Chair Rephael Wenger made sure instructors were contacting students to check on their connectivity and to make sure nobody fell through the cracks.

“Now, we’re tracking participation,” McKinley said. “We’re checking to see if students are logging into Carmen Canvas. Are they attending our live Zoom lectures during class time or viewing the recorded lectures later on? Are they completing assignments?”

For students who might be struggling during the transition, Kline made sure there’s plenty of help available. She set up a virtual tutor room that’s open from 11:30 to 5:30 Monday through Friday. Students can connect by Zoom to speak to a teaching assistant. At any given time, two or three TAs are on duty, and for problems needing special attention, either Kline or McKinley is available to help.

Kline and her team also recognized the unique challenges that international students would face once they returned home. To begin with, the students would invariably go into quarantine, where internet access might not be reliable or even available. On top of that, there was the time difference. For example, when the virtual tutor room opens at 11:30 a.m., a student in Shanghai – 12 hours ahead of Columbus — might be asleep for the night. As a result, Kline is considering opening the tutor room at 9 a.m. McKinley had even offered to get up at 3 in the morning to staff the room.

“Thankfully, we’ve been so responsive to the students, we’ve heard very few complaints,” Kline said. “Students can email me any time of day, and then I can arrange to do an individual Zoom session with them. The same is true of the other instructors and TAs. So, if a student wants to connect with us at 8 in the morning, which for a student in China might be 8 at night, we could easily accommodate that.”

Practically speaking, there are no “off” days for the team. Instructors routinely monitor their emails, and on a recent Sunday, when students were required to submit a Carmen quiz and two labs, McKinley was online from 10 in the morning until she went to bed just after midnight.

The next day, based on the assignments received, Kline had a valuable insight: the vast majority of students – more than 95% – were participating.

“The transition to online courses has been going surprisingly smoothly,” Wenger said. “But we continue to be worried about the couple of students in each class who might not be able to connect and continue their education either because of technology problems or personal situations. We are trying to identify them and connect them with the appropriate resources.”

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