UC leads the way into the ‘new normal’ with online education, virtual co-ops and more

BY UC MAGAZINE STAFF

 

W

hen did the COVID-19 pandemic first make an impact on your life? March 10? That was the day the University of Cincinnati decided to change something it has excelled at for 200 years. Teaching. Educating. That day UC announced that all lectures in classrooms, experiments in labs or designing in studios would be suspended. Students started what was expected to be just an extended spring break, but then 12 days later all courses had gone virtual to protect the university community and stop the virus’s spread.

 

UC quickly adapted to a constantly changing, ever evolving educational environment, beginning with the historic undertaking of moving an entire academic enterprise online — more than 8,000 classes — in a matter of days.

“I am extremely proud of how the UC community has transitioned to online teaching and learning,” Kristi Nelson, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, said soon after students returned home. “Our faculty have been creative and flexible and kept teaching excellence and student success at the forefront of their efforts.

“The magnitude of work, planning and care that has gone into this effort is quite incredible. From our IT team cleaning and repurposing computers for students and faculty in need, to our career education, student affairs and advising teams working to provide alternative online learning experiences and supportive academic and student social services,” Nelson added. “This has been a tremendous effort, and our faculty and staff have gone above and beyond to ensure the UC experience is preserved for our students no matter where they reside.”

The reality is that UC leaned into one of its strengths, says Jason Lemon, vice provost of UC Online, the university’s platform for fully online education.

“For more than two decades, the University of Cincinnati has been an innovator in the world of online instruction,” says Lemon. “Faculty who are teaching online courses at UC take advantage of a very robust suite of academic technologies, learning management systems, digital, video, audio, text and animation. A whole variety of things are available and possible in an online course.”

In many ways, the university was already prepared — poised to thrive in this new reality. Before the pandemic, UC had already increased the number of virtual co-op opportunities, introduced education majors to a new way of teaching, and improved overall digital accessibility. Now this unprecedented fall semester blends online and in-person classes, and the university continues to lend its student, faculty and staff expertise to community and industry partners. Through an unpredictable year, UC remains one step ahead.

Earning and learning remotely

As the global founder of cooperative education, UC’s Experience-based Learning and Career Education (ELCE) is setting a national pace to meet these complex and sometimes competing demands around education, the economy and health.

Gisela Escoe, dean of ELCE, says the university was prepared to serve the needs of co-op students in the current environment due to the UC Remote Work Center that was founded as part of the division last year. Both students and industry partners can use the center as a resource to learn how to use available software, hardware and network security technologies to establish opportunities for remote work through a simulated learning environment.

“Even before the pandemic, we recognized and anticipated that work needs would increasingly rely on virtual or hybrid semi-virtual environments,” Escoe says. “That foresight is allowing us to quickly expand capacity on a foundation that already existed. And we expect that progression will continue even after current events pass.”

The center provides employment opportunities in transdisciplinary areas projected to be important in the future — areas such as informatics, cybersecurity, health, sustainability and digital communication — and research on how virtual work impacts team development and productivity. Companies can expand their remote and virtual workforce with UC talent.

UC has hosted several webinars on the topic of remote work, featuring experts from companies such as Microsoft Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Dell, which have become especially timely with stay-at-home orders in place across the country and across the world due to the coronavirus outbreak.

 

UC students emerge education tech leaders

When Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued a stay-at-home order in March, the scramble to move classrooms online, almost overnight, with practically no time for planning and training, caught many educators unprepared. Many struggled to overhaul lesson plans into an online learning program that’s not only educational, but also engaging and fun.

Thankfully, students in UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services are well-versed in digital teaching and learning tools.

After the onset of the pandemic, UC associate professor and instructional designer Sarah Schroeder soon began hearing from students who were being called on to lend their technology expertise.

“My students are stepping in with their parents, neighbors, aunts and uncles, and saying, ‘I got this. I can teach you.’ They’re supporting siblings who are learning online for the first time, as well as being a brand-new tech coach for their parents,” Schroeder explains. “I said, ‘Let’s figure out a way to use this for class.’”

Providing students with real-world experiences and giving them an edge in the competitive marketplace motivated Schroeder to retool the School of Education’s undergraduate technology program when she took it over three years ago. Since then, the program has incorporated greater technology in more classes and offers more opportunities for students who want to become leaders in the future. 

And the results, Schroeder says, are already showing.

“Schools have been contacting us back saying, ‘Wow! Your student teachers are such great technology leaders in our building. Or ‘Wow! We were able to call on them to help us, and they learned it in your classroom,’” she says.

“I feel that we have an impact in the community, and it’s helping teachers,” says Schroeder. “Teaching in general is so overwhelming. If we can step in to help in little tiny ways to help them be more confident, especially right now, it’s exciting that we can do that.”

And it’s not only teachers who UC educators are helping. The transition to remote learning has left many parents with children temporarily at home feeling as if they must fill the learning gap, says Schroeder.

To better assist students, Schroeder prepared a series of webinars geared toward both parents and teachers, designed to help them cope with the transition to online learning on the fly. Topics for families include issues such as how to set expectations with children, the power of play, navigating online information and the parent’s role in remote learning. Other webinars for teachers address topics like how to host and manage live student meetings, collaborating remotely, designing meaningful discussions and increasing student engagement.

“You don’t have to be expected to teach your kids everything and know everything,” Schroeder tells parents. “You’re not the teacher.”

 

Student leaning against a wall as she looks at her laptop.

Cutting-edge digital accessibility

While higher education around the world adjusts to new virtual learning norms, UC continues to lead in making websites and online learning tools accessible to everyone.

“The real value of UC’s digital web presence goes beyond continuing a smooth transition from in-class to remote or hybrid learning for students during the pandemic,” says Heidi Pettyjohn, executive director for accessibility in the Division of Student Affairs. “We’re also maintaining our commitment to include digital access for people with disabilities.”

Stemming from federal guidelines as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), UC began a whole new refresh of the university’s main webpage in 2014. As a result of the ADA, a person with a disability must be able to obtain digital information as fully, equally and independently as a person without a disability.

Staying ahead of the game, UC launched its new accessibility network website earlier in July, which includes new touch points like remotely accessing copy machines and other electronic devices on campus.

“After COVID-19 threw the campus a curve-ball in March, we were able to partner with faculty to help them quickly and efficiently transition to an online and digital teaching framework,” says Mitchell Jones, UC accessible technology specialist. “Things were happening so fast and we hit a few road bumps, but making it mandatory for all new technologies to meet UC’s accessibility standards prevented many students from feeling isolated.”

Whether it is teaching educators how to shift to a new way of thinking or making sure UC’s co-ops are prepared for a different way to work — not to mention researching COVID-19 and treating patients — the University of Cincinnati is helping people navigate this “new normal.”

Anything is remotely possible.

 

Video link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/j0Z2x0SJMq0?rel=0

Additional credits

Photography by Lisa Ventre and Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand

Photo illustrations by Michelle Ensch/UC Creative + Brand

Digital design by Kerry Overstake

 

 

FEATURE STORIES

Remotely possible

When did the COVID-19 pandemic first make an impact on your life? March 10? That was the day the University of Cincinnati decided to change something it has excelled at for 200 years. Teaching. Educating. That day UC announced that all lectures in classrooms, experiments in labs or designing in studios would be suspended. Students started what was expected to be just an extended spring break, but then 12 days later all courses had gone virtual to protect the university community and stop the virus’s spread.

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