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Fast forward for online learning

Springfield Technical Community College had a long-term plan to ramp up online and digital learning. But, then came the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced staff working as part of the college’s Center for Online and Digital Learning to move faster than they ever imagined. The staff includes instructional designers who assist faculty in online teaching methods they incorporate into the classroom experience.

To maintain the safety of students, faculty and staff, STCC moved classes to remote instruction in March.

Instructional designers worked with faculty over the summer to prepare for fully online teaching during this academic year.

Faculty and administrators acknowledge the abrupt change to remote learning created great challenges and, for some, led to a lessthan- ideal learning environment last spring. The sudden need to vacate campus resulted in the use of a slew of digital tools to communicate with students including email, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, teleconferencing by phone and Zoom.

“Many faculty had been using online tools for the delivery of their face-to face classes. However, for those faculty who were not familiar with the digital space or whose courses required hands-on instruction, the ‘lift’ to online was great,” said Geraldine de Berly, vice president of academic affairs. “Since the summer, STCC invested in tools and training to assist faculty in developing the best truly online experience possible, including the hiring of a third instructional designer. Today, all online instruction occurs in a single platform, supplemented by class discussions using tools such as Zoom.”

The college anticipates spending nearly $800,000 through May in helping faculty develop hundreds of online classes and labs, de Berly says. Today, more than 80% of the credits

SEE STCC, PAGE K15

“Since the summer, STCC invested in tools and training to assist faculty in developing the best truly online experience possible, including the hiring of a third instructional designer. Today, all online instruction occurs in a single platform, supplemented by class discussions using tools such as Zoom.”

Geraldine de Berly, vice president of academic affairs, Springfield Technical Community College

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are offered online, a jump from 12% prior to the pandemic. Over the coming year, STCC also expects to expand its online-only options in addition to its existing in-person and hybrid degree programs.

The college will return to face-to-face, on-campus instruction when it’s safe to do so, but will continue to offer online options and apply digital tools to enhance the classroom experience, according to de Berly.

English professor Denise “Daisy” Flaim has years of experience teaching students on campus in classrooms, so converting to the online experience was a big adjustment. She worked closely with the online team to prepare for the transition and feels confident going into this spring semester.

“We’re learning technology, just as the students are learning technology,” Flaim says.

Dan Misco, an alumnus and faculty member in the digital media production program, considers himself well-versed in the online teaching world. Today, he teaches most of his classes online, but misses the face-to-face interactions with students in a classroom.

“I considered myself a face-to-face instructor,” Misco says. “I always excelled in the classroom. I liked being there with students to build a rapport with them.”

The adjustment to online learning can be challenging for some students, but Misco says faculty try to do all they can to help.

Student Kimberly Quiñonez, a Springfield resident studying social work, expresses gratitude to the support from faculty over the past year.

“My experience as an online learner has really been amazing, although there were times I felt like quitting,” she says. “During those times my professors would reach out and check in with the class. In the very beginning I must admit that it was quite challenging transferring from an actual classroom to a computer. The classroom brought security to most students because questions were answered immediately. With online learning you may have to wait for a response through email.”

Aminah Bergeron, of Westfi eld, a mechanical engineering technology student, found benefits to online learning, noting she has “gotten the hang of it” after a year of studying from home.

“It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. It was for sure different but a ‘good’ different,” Bergeron says. “I didn’t have to worry about getting ready, or making sure my house doors are locked or even thinking in the back of my head, ‘Did I leave the faucet running?’ I just had to open my laptop and start my schoolwork whether at my own pace or scheduled Zoom meetings. I also had much more time to research and not worry about calculating the time I’d lose on commuting to one location to another.”

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