Bridget McCarthy ’20, an anthropology major, needed to write a job application cover letter. She contacted Laura Walker ’20G, a PSU Writing Center graduate assistant whom she had worked with previously and the two successfully collaborated virtually, thanks to the University’s array of digital tools, institutional knowledge, and a flexible culture that has historically embraced adaption and innovation.
Since the decision was made for courses and services to be delivered fully online, Plymouth State’s faculty, departments, and offices have stepped up in myriad ways, enabling students to continue learning remotely.
The deepening COVID-19 crisis necessitated a rapid response by colleges and universities across the nation, and after much consideration, PSU adopted a “virtual only” format on Wednesday, March 18. Fortunately, most students and many faculty members were off campus during the previous week for Spring Break, which became a valuable initial period for planning and course redesign. Monday and Tuesday, March 16–17, were set aside for faculty to continue reformatting courses, and curricular and technical refinements are ongoing.
“The four teams of Lamson Learning Commons (LLC)—Information Technology Services, the Lamson Library, the Writing Center, and the Open CoLab—are all offering support through online channels in order to respond to our community needs,” says Robin DeRosa, CoLab director. “Faculty, staff, and students can get almost immediate help at most hours of the day when they encounter a challenge that they need assistance with. All of us in the LLC feel proud of our availability, and we’re grateful that we can be here to help during a difficult time.”
The University has many powerful technology toolsets at its disposal, and the highly skilled Information Technology Services (ITS) staff is helping faculty and students make the most of them. Zoom video conferencing, the Kaltura video platform, the Moodle learning platform, the Mahara ePortfolio system, and the Microsoft Office suite are among the options facilitating online learning. Microsoft Teams, a chat-based workspace, is allowing conversations, meetings, file sharing, and collaboration to take place in courses and among departments and groups across the university.
In addition, the ITS Knowledgebase, a self-service resource of instructions and guides to tech options and issues, has been augmented in recent weeks with over 100 additional how-tos and FAQs.
“I had great Zoom session with Laura,” said McCarthy. “The meeting was very easy to set up. Laura helped me mostly with clarifying my cover letter and making sure it connected with the position description. She first gave me some comments on my Google doc, then when we Zoomed we looked over my revisions.”
The CoLab, a dynamic hub for teaching and learning praxis and community-driven academic professional development, has played a key role in the University’s temporary academic shift to exclusively online classes. “We’re especially focused on reminding faculty to listen to their students and understand the new reality that shapes their engagement now,” says DeRosa. Together with ITS, Library, and Writing Center staff, the CoLab put together comprehensive, daylong “Teaching Effectively During Times of Disruption” sessions for faculty who needed to quickly reformat their pedagogy. Subsequent offerings have focused on demonstrating care and assuring students so they can progress in their studies, sharing best practices for shifting to remote learning, and listing an ever-growing resource on online tips, news, and tools.
PSU librarians are well versed in remote methods of assistance and are advising faculty and students via videoconferencing, phone, text, chat, and e-mail. Faculty and students can access 200,000 ebooks and 100 databases; full text encyclopedia titles; and thousands of educational films, including the entire library of PBS resources. The Lamson Library also offers digitizing and document delivery assistance.
Many other offices are helping support faculty and their students online. The Center for Student Success has provided helpful guides for remote academic advising and other resources, and the Office of Career Services has responded with information concerning internship policies and employment opportunities, and it is offering virtual drop-in appointments for students and advisors. Campus Accessibility Services, Plymouth Academic Support Services (PASS), and TRIO Student Support Services and Tutoring are also meeting critical needs in new virtual formats.
The online exchanges are beneficial for both parties. “I work as a study skills tutor and it is very exciting to have interactions with people I’m not living with,” says Eliana Jones ’22, an interdisciplinary studies major. “I get to speak to people who I don’t really see on a day-to-day basis and that’s a breath of fresh air.”
Jones has helped many students, including a peer who had difficulty making her room at home feel more like a college classroom. “To help her, we made a schedule where she would sit with just her computer and schoolwork, without other electronics like TV or music,” says Jones. “Also, we talked about going to ‘school’ during her regular class times. She really liked this idea because it allowed her to accomplish work for every class and not forget any.”