Troy Moon, Pensacola State College
Bill Waters retires in July. The Pensacola State College eLearning Department director came to the college in 1999, and has seen how the internet revolution has changed life, and learning.
But he’s never seen anything like what’s happened in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic altering life across the globe in a matter of months.
“This is definitely the highlight, no doubt about it,’’ Waters said, a chuckle evident in his voice. “It’s something unprecedented.”
But not something insurmountable. Waters said while the challenges have been many, PSC was in a good position already in the transition to online classes.
“This is what we do,’’ he said. “Even teachers who were on campus were already using a lot of the tools that online teachers use. If this would have happened five, six, seven years ago, it would have been more of a challenge. We still had challenges. When you are forced to move a class online suddenly, there’s always going to be a challenge.”
Besides Waters, the eLearning department is composed of Holly Vaughn, senior instructional technologist; Paul Chaney, instructional technologist; Wanda Edwards, instructional technologist; Billy Jackson, Planetarium specialist, and Rose Hall, administrative assistant.
Waters said Edwards and Vaughn were instrumental in training and course development during the transition, while Chaney was an “under the hood” technician working on configuration and maintenance of online systems. But Waters said faculty members were responsible with populate those online classes with information and tutorials relevant to the courses they were teaching.
“We have had very talented faculty members step up to help others who didn’t have much experience with online instruction,’’ Waters said. “And we were able to implement and use new technology, such as Zoom and other online conferencing tools now in the toolbox. Faculty have been able to communicate in real time with their students in a way that probably wouldn’t have been possible before.”
Erin Spicer, PSC Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs, lauded all involved with the transition to online.
“The quick transition to Live Online classes was a huge undertaking for the faculty, but they have done amazing and creative work to ensure that our students continue to receive the quality education they deserve. It helped that we have been offering Live Online classes for the last few years so we were already familiar with synchronous online instruction and we had the necessary tools available. The eLearning department and faculty members with experience teaching Live Online classes have provided incredible support to the faculty during the transition to the online format.”
Waters said many of the lengthy processes normally used in moving classes to online instruction had to be bypassed to ensure a speedy transition
“There’s normally a very rigorous process involved in developing new eLearning courses,’’ Waters said.
“The standing role of online was that you don’t try to mimic the on-campus experiences. With what is happening, maybe it’s time to revisit that. Because with videoconferencing in real time, and with all the students there, there is a possibility to recreate the classroom experience fully, though we’re not fully there yet.”
Waters said the streamlined transition to online has been challenging on many fronts.
“Right now, we’re looking at this as a sort of triage situation,’’ he said. “We’ve certainly backed off on the rigorous process for putting courses online, so it’s not an ideal situation. We want to get these students through this term and then work to shore up these classes for future semesters.
He said there still needs to more consistent and standardization of online formats, so students aren’t virtually lost from class to class.
But Waters said he believes PSC is ahead of the curve compared to other colleges he has looked at during the pandemic.
“We already had a strong eLearning department,’’ he said. “These guys I work with just run circles around their counterparts from other colleges, from what I’ve been seeing and hearing.”
Speaking of his department staff, Waters said, “The faculty has truly shown their appreciation for the assistance. The school is lucky to have these talented people.”
PHOTO: Michael Johnston, top row center, conducts an Elementary Statistics class via video conferencing. Photo courtesy of Michael Johnston