As the first in the UW System to offer online programs, UW-Superior has a long history of distance learning solutions, which proved beneficial. Another invaluable asset was the university’s Digital Strategies Team, whose staff quickly sprang into action to assist students and faculty make the transition to remote learning.
“It’s important to make the distinction that what we, and other universities, did really wasn’t simply ‘going online,’” said Rebecca Graetz, instructional program manager. “Online programs per se are designed with specific preplanned pedagogy and outcomes. What we did was act creatively and quickly to adapt existing coursework for remote delivery in ways that would preserve quality and educational outcomes to the greatest extent possible – online delivery being one of the modalities.”
Graetz and Delwin Wright, instructional designer and technology consultant, assisted as many as five instructors per day during the two-weeks of preparation. In addition, a Continuity of Operability (Co-Op) team of faculty was formed to consult with instructors and assist students with the change, troubleshooting issues ranging from access to technology and connectivity to helping students resolve personal issues resulting from the pandemic, and assisting their peers with transitioning courses.
Through it all, the message that resonated throughout the university from top administration through all departments was one of unwavering commitment, understanding and support for students and the entire campus community.
“My remote learning experience has been a pretty smooth transition,” said Hannah Brunner, senior elementary education major. “All of my teachers have been very flexible and understanding due to the unprecedented times we’re in.”
Using Every Tool in the Toolkit
“It helped that the university had implemented a new online learning platform called Canvas recently and had already provided a significant amount of training,” said Wright. “Many instructors were already using Canvas to some degree in their classes. Perhaps a silver lining is that this crisis has given us the impetus to continue integrating Canvas, not only as an instructional tool, but also in non-instructional ways, as well, such as grading, professional development and day-to-day work procedures.”
Some courses lend themselves easily to remote delivery, but others centered around experiential learning were particular challenges, prompting instructors to pull out every educational tool in their toolkit.
For Khalil (Haji) Dokhanchi, professor of political science, using a Zoom meeting for his Political Science 101 class has proven to be effective, as has using the topic of the global pandemic for instructional purposes.