Well, last week was the whirl of decision-making. First it was the cancellation of the spring break trips. Our disappointed athletes saw their spring seasons quickly disappear. Then campus events were cancelled and our performing arts students saw their seasons and trips disappear. Then there was a cascade of schools sending students home for a few weeks (returns TBD), and our lab sciences shuddered, students in internships scrambled, and the stress of faculty figuring out how to move classes to an online format was palpable. It was a tough week for everyone.
But here we are, at the start of spring break. Students and faculty are off. Most staff are working remotely. Our facilities crew is cleaning the campus and we actually have a moment to regain our composure. Whew.
So, here’s some good news. First, what a wonderfully resilient group we are at WCSU (and I suspect in most of higher education). My instructional design team has upped its support for faculty who have never taught online. For those who have never done so, teaching online is not an easy shift. Most people spend at least a summer planning for such a thing, so doing it in a week is lightning speed. Nevertheless, people are figuring it out. I have received lots of notes from faculty wanting to help each other. We are putting those helpful hints in our course management system, so people can get ideas from each other. It is the kind of camaraderie that comes in a crisis, that I hope will last beyond the panic.
Our Academic Support services (librarians, tutors, and academic coaches) are all moving online These groups are in separate clusters at WCSU, with varied uses of log in tools, training, and tracking of demand. This week, they are all learning to pool resources and share techniques so that the supports for student learning do not waiver while we are a virtual university.
We are just entering our fall registration period and there have been questions about how advising will work. As a blended system of faculty and professional advisors, we wanted to be sure students knew how to get help while off campus. As it turns out, this part is pretty simple. Advising is easy to accomplish via email, phone, or conferencing tools. Faculty can review student transcripts from home, put advising notes and registration pins right in Degree Works (our transcript system), and the students will be all set to go. The bright side might be, however, that students happen to be reading their email right now because of their attention to the closure. I’m hoping we end up with higher percentage of students registered for the fall than is usual at this time.
What about the rest of us, the ones who aren’t teaching, advising, or maintaining facilities? Well, admissions is still busy admitting students. Financial aid is still busy helping address awards and manage accounts. Registrars are still busy helping students register. Our Student Affairs team suddenly has a few free minutes to plan for the fall, while simultaneously planning for an adjusted schedule this spring. In Academic Affairs (including the Deans and all of the people who support us), we’re busy reviewing schedules, curriculum, and opportunities for growth, as we were prior to COVID-19. The only difference is that we might have a few more hours of uninterrupted writing and thinking time.
This is that moment when we might wonder why we’ve built in so many interruptions in the first place. Are all of those meetings a good use of time? Is our committee structure so complex that it wears us out more that it offers insight? Do we build agendas for meetings that are useful and achievable? Having this opportunity to think for just a few extra minutes a day, I can already see that there is room to streamline our efforts.
Then there are the electronic interruptions. The good news is it is easy for me to shift my job to online, because much of it is about responding to email and writing documents. The bad news is that much of the email is silly. It is easy for me to delete all the sales pitches, but the never-ending stream of clarifications about our governance processes, suggests that a) our processes are too cumbersome, b) our instructions are too vague, and c) we must have hidden the instructions from view, because no one seems to have read them. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind answering. People are doing their best and they don’t want to get things wrong. But I’m pretty sure my colleagues are smart, so I suspect there is something wrong with how we’ve organized things. This shift away from meetings might give me a minute to figure out how to make some adjustments.
For those who are scrambling to figure out online instruction, you can pause for a minute, too. Look at your courses and ask yourself what you must accomplish in the remaining weeks of the semester. In complete honesty, is it everything you included at the start? Could you get to a good set of learning experiences and outcomes by doing a little less? Probably. Take this opportunity to make those cuts, with essential concepts at the heart of the decisions. It will keep you from trying to do more than is actually possible in this quick transition. It might also teach you a few lessons for next year.
In other words, after the panic, there really is time to breathe and think. While I remain concerned about the potential spread of this virus, I will simply be grateful for the time it has added to my day. It is almost as if mother nature scheduled time for spring cleaning. I’ll take it.