By Riley Prillwitz | Illustration by Cate Johnson
On March 11, Colorado College sent an email informing staff and students that the administration had decided to move Block 7 to online learning. A week later, Block 8 was also moved online.
The announcement came as a surprise to many, and came at a time when students were simultaneously finishing finals and leaving on spring break trips. The virus had previously seemed so far away, and there was neither time to process nor time to plan. Many students left campus, as well as many belongings, behind them as they found shelter off-campus.
But amid the chaos and uncertainty that students experienced during these unprecedented times, professors were dealing with an entirely different situation. They only had two weeks to move their curriculum completely online to accommodate distance learning.
“It was really abrupt, and everybody was like, ‘How are we supposed to do this?’” said Computer Science Prof. Richard Wellman. “I never intended to do class this way.”
Other professors felt similar pressures about moving online. “The thought of doing something new, like teaching online, was daunting,” explained Olivia Hatton, assistant professor of molecular biology. “The thought of having to do it for two classes in a row (after also teaching Block 6), was overwhelming in the beginning.”
Colorado College professors were not left to their own devices, though. CC ITS set up many different resources to aid the sudden movement to online classes. Associate Professor and Chair of Education Manya Whitaker was one professor who took advantage of what was being offered.
“I was stunned that given the short period of time, we had SO MANY support [services] to facilitate this transition,” Whitaker said. “ITS offered individual support sessions, workshops on how to revise learning outcomes and assignments, workshops on using technology, workshops to discuss the merits of synchronous versus asynchronous courses, and even ‘practice’ classes with generous staff who volunteered to be ‘students.’”
Hatton was also grateful for the extra help. “The support from ITS, the Academic Continuity Task Force, and the Crown Faculty Center was a great help to me personally.”
As Block 7 began, professors and students mainly found success and were able to problem-solve in order to get things done in a new way. However, many quickly discovered that learning from a distance will never be the same as learning face-to-face.
“Obviously, there is no substitute to doing class in-person,” said Hatton. “I love interacting with students and being able to quickly respond to their questions and misconceptions about the material.”
Wellman felt the same way. “This is the worst part about it, not being face-to-face with students. There is nowhere near the amount of access to professors as before.”
There were also a number of adjustments for professors to make for their class set-up in general. Some things simply could not happen outside of the classroom.
“The core material didn’t change, but the extent of material covered and much of the course structure did change,” said Hatton. “Probably the biggest changes I made were to assessments. Instead of larger, high-stakes assessments, I moved to more frequent, low-stakes assessments.”
These past few months may have been a challenge for CC professors, but they are choosing to see the bright side amid it all.
“My experience has been a wonderful opportunity for professional growth and self-assessment,” said Whitaker. “Because I taught Block 7 and am currently teaching Block 8, I used spring break to learn how to use Zoom, to adjust my assignments, to reduce the number of readings, and to increase the number of multi-media ‘texts’ such as podcasts and documentaries.”
Hatton agreed: “There is a silver lining to all of this. I think I am learning a lot about how to make my classes even more accessible and inclusive, how to structure a course to encourage a growth mindset in students, how to be more creative in my pedagogy, and how resilient our students — and our entire CC community — really is.”
Wellman also saw what could be taken away from the students’ commitment and engagement to the circumstances.
“I think it has succeeded as much as it did because the students took it seriously and did what they had to do to make it worthwhile,” he said. “If the students hadn’t taken it seriously then it would have been disastrous.”
Overall, professors took the unfortunate circumstances in stride and did their best to craft a positive experience despite the difficulties. “At the risk of sounding cliché, challenges are really just opportunities in disguise,” said Hatton.
And of course, a good sense of humor is the best way to cope. “We’ll do this for as long as we have to, and when we go back, I never want to do this again,” joked Wellman.