Dr. Lisa Taylor, vice president for academic affairs at Texas College, came to Texas College last summer with a background in online education technology and a vision for the future. She wanted to increase the college’s digital learning capabilities. So before the COVID-19 pandemic reached East Texas in March, the staff was already in training.
“My research shows with the proper support online is possible,” Taylor said. “We started being ready for this before the virus.”
On July 2, Texas College announced that classes would be held online only and fall sports were canceled in light of the coronavirus concerns. Students returned to classes on Aug. 12 online, and Taylor said she hasn’t heard any complaints so far. The fall semester will conclude on Nov. 20, according to the college.
In the beginning, Taylor said a handful of professors were concerned. But the worry was soon taken out of the equation. “It’s (online education) what I love,” Taylor said. “I want to replicate that passion in the faculty.”
At Texas College, students attend classes they normally would in person at a scheduled time using Zoom instead. Taylor said students learning how to take courses online helps them have the skills they need for the job market.
She gets excited when talking about virtual learning. She said there’s a spirit of positivity at Texas College. “I was always that person looking to grow,” she said. “We don’t have the spirit of fear here. Not with me, I make it fun. We actually enjoy learning new things here.”
Training for online tools began last fall as educators dabbled in the virtual setting. In February, the college held another digital training. After spring break, the digital learning tools were fresh on the professors’ minds. By March 30, all courses were online ready. The college then worked to make sure every student had a device to complete online course work, Taylor said. She added that 80% of students were satisfied with the spring semester, according to an external review.
Prior to the start of classes, students received information on how to post in a discussion forum and take online quizzes to practice for their online courses, Taylor said. Students are having Zoom sessions and teachers are recording their lectures for students who may not be able to attend due to other obligations.
“It’s not punitive if they can’t make it because we are still in crisis mode,” she said.
Dr. Cynthia Marshall-Biggins, vice president for student affairs, said programs under her department are continuing meetings online. Texas College’s Student Affairs oversees areas such as residence life, food and health services, financial aid, security, athletics and transportation. Marshall-Biggins said the security division is still maintaining the campus while students and faculty are away.
“For the most part, all of the services will still be active while in a virtual setting,” she said.
Athletes are meeting their coaches online and attending virtual workouts. “We’re trying to keep everything as normal as possible as we’re in this virtual mode of delivery,” Marshall-Biggins said.
She said a lot of students were hesitant about going virtual, but now they’re adjusting to the changes. “For us, their safety is more important,” she said. “They’re all just kind of jumping into it. We’re excited that they’re getting on board.”
In early August, the college held its new student orientation – traditionally an in-person event – using Zoom. Marshall-Biggins said the orientation was a success. Marshall-Biggins said there are several Student Affairs events that will continue forward virtually, including homecoming festivities, financial aid workshops, student elections and Greek Life recruitment. “We’re planning to do all the things we normally do (but virtually),” she said.
Band and choir students are also meeting and practicing online. Marshall-Biggins said the students having a connection to the classroom is the most important aspect of remote education. “We’re just excited and looking forward to getting through the semester,” Marshall-Biggins said.
Taylor noted Texas College is focused on students having a quality education and gaining critical thinking skills. “Texas College has made sure the curriculum is high quality online,” Taylor said. “If you can Google it, it’s not learning.” There’s also a retention team to make sure students aren’t falling behind, Taylor said. She’s encouraging students and faculty to have back-up plans in case files get lost. We’ve got a Plan A, B and C,” Taylor said. “If lightning strikes the server, what’s the plan? Be realistic and be prepared.”
The original article, published Saturday, August 22, 2020, was written by the Tyler Morning Telegraph's Zak Wellerman and can be found by visiting the Tyler Morning Telegraph online.