With schools across the state closing because of the coronavirus, students of all ages are continuing the spring semester at home.
“As we’ve moved to remote instruction, we’ve had to move to remote advising and remote student services, and we’ve done it in a way that continues the important support that our students need," said University of West Florida President Martha Saunders in a video talking about the transition to online learning and student life at UWF.
As most institutions around the state have shut down during the COVID-19 crisis, students and teachers have been adapting to this new normal.
“I’ve been amazed at the way that our facility and our students have come together to figure this out," said Dr. Michelle Horton, Assistant Vice President at the University of West Florida who leads the Center for Global Online Learning and Development. She says her team of instructional designers has been the central support for faculty as they transition all classes online in response to the Corona virus. “We broke down our instruction, or our training and support, into three different categories. We wanted instructors to know how (they) are going to communicate, how (they( are going to teach or distribute their instruction, and how (they) are going to access students and their learning, their grades, their exams.”
The university set up boot camps for teachers who had little or no experience in online instruction. Dr. Horton says she’s been impressed by the faculty’s to learn and adapt.
“Because we know that everybody’s at a different level. Everybody has a different comfort level with technology, everybody has a different experience of using technology to teach. I’ve also been impressed with our faculty who do have the expertise in teaching online. They have been very supportive of their peers, and (have been) offering different types of support from their academic discipline to other instructors who may need it.”
The other piece to the puzzle is the students. Keeping them on a schedule and engaged with their education is another challenge.
“It is a challenge" said Horton, "Because students have had to leave their dorms and go back home, and things are very different at home from when they left it. They may have siblings at home that are also, in the K-12 system, taking classes online.”
In Escambia County, schools are also moving to online learning.
“For several years now, we have issued Chromebook devices for students in grades 3 through 12,” said Steve Marcanio, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction for the Escambia County School District. He says the district will not be starting from scratch with the switch to on-line instruction. “The vast majority of our students already have a Chromebook device that they take home with them. We also have a number of extra devices. So we are working on K-2, determining which students do not have a device and then each school will work on a deployment plan for getting a Chromebook device to those students in grades K-2 who might need one, assuming, obviously, that they have internet access at home. Because a lot of our curriculum materials , even going down into kindergarten level are on-line resources.”
Marcanio says the district will be reaching out to parents next week to outline each student’s instruction plan. If a parent believes the district has an outdated phone number or they have not received a call by Friday, April 3, they should call their child’s school.
And while the schedule for students in grades K-12 returning to classrooms is still subject to change, UWF has announced they will be limited to online instruction for the remainder of the spring semester and into the summer.
“We just announced this week that our courses offered this summer will be fully online" said Dr. Michelle Horton. "So students will have the opportunity to continue their education. We want them to continue. Many of them are approaching graduation. We don’t want them to have to pause. So the ability to quickly on board more on-line courses is really critical to a lot of our students.”
As for the fall, schools districts, colleges and universities all say it’s way too soon to tell.