College Makes Remarkable Transition to Online/Remote Instruction

April 15, 2020

Shifting instruction for a college of 10,000 students to an online or remote format over the course of two weeks is no easy task, but Hudson Valley Community College’s faculty and instructional support staff have done a remarkable job of transitioning more than 400 courses out of the classroom and into a format where students can continue to pursue their education.

With more than 20 online degrees and certificates already on offer, the college is known around the SUNY system as a leader in online education. Hudson Valley was fortunate to have that depth of experience when the COVID-19 outbreak forced colleges and universities around the state to shift coursework out of the classroom this spring.

Perhaps nowhere on campus has been busier than the Center for Distance and Online Learning, where instructional designers, faculty mentors and other staff have proactively assisted students with the transition to online or remote learning.

With a team of four instructional designers - including two brand new employees - the Distance and Online Learning office had the college’s extended spring break to help faculty convert their courses.

Staff and faculty mentors launched an intensive training schedule that focused on getting faculty comfortable with the tools at their disposal, all with an emphasis on academic continuity and maintaining quality standards. Hour-long introductory workshops were conducted on the primary tools faculty needed: Zoom, TechSmith Relay, Blackboard, Blackboard Collaborate and VoiceThread.

The first week of training saw 51 workshops, including Saturday and evenings, and over the next three weeks, DL staff held a total of 126 workshops and one-on-one sessions, everything from how to set up a remote course with email and phone conferencing to helping build out a completed Blackboard course template that could complement synchronous video lectures. Hundreds of hours of training all with the aim of getting teachers ready when classes started up last week.

Many instructors are choosing to use the Zoom meeting platform for classes as well as office hours, and usage has taken off exponentially. Information Technology Services (ITS) Director Jonathan Brennan said that on March 30, the first instructional day after Spring Break, 423 separate Zoom meetings were conducted by the college and its faculty, with more than 4,100 unique participants and 179,000 total minutes of meeting time. Three weeks earlier, the college had just 20 meetings with 96 participants.

By all accounts, the hard work has paid off. Faculty at the college have risen to the challenge, according to President Roger A. Ramsammy, and are finding unique and innovative ways to meet students’ education needs.

“From the humanities to the sciences and from business to the technologies, our campus community has responded to this unprecedented challenge,” Ramsammy said. “Our faculty were willing and our staff were there to help them. This has been a campus-wide effort, and I’m immensely proud of how we’ve adapted our teaching and support services to ensure that every student has the opportunity to complete their studies this semester.”

With the college’s decision to move all Summer 2020 instruction to an online or remote format, faculty members are now also shifting their courses to a new modality in time for the start of summer classes in May and July.

A new suite of training boot camps have been scheduled by distance learning staff over the next two months in order to help faculty meet that goal and also to ensure that course work meets the high standard of online instruction the college has been known for.

On the technology side, ITS has been busy for the past month sourcing and purchasing laptops so that students, faculty and staff can work and learn remotely with the necessary hardware and software. Brennan said the office was able to deploy hundreds of laptops, headsets, iPads and other technology, some of which was purchased through a COVID 19 Emergency Support Fund set up by the college Foundation. With support from donors, the Student Senate and Faculty Student Association, the fund has now reached $40,000.

Brennan said the college was able to adapt to a fully online or remote learning environment so quickly due to the strong technological infrastructure the campus already had in place. Services like Zoom, Softphone, virtual desktops and an expanded server capacity were already in place on the campus. They just needed to be scaled up to match the shift to a remote work environment.

“One thing that really stands out for us is that we already had most of the infrastructure that we are now depending on,” Brennan said. “We just needed to scale a lot of it up to cover the whole community. This allowed us to focus our efforts on making things perfect. We were way ahead of the curve before, and now we are in a position to define what the curve looks like.”

Last week, the college received a shipment of 295 laptops from SUNY that are earmarked for student use. Students who are in need of a laptop for loan are able to make the request through their individual faculty members.

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