The Transition Online, Part 1
This week TWU completes likely the most unusual and challenging semester in the University’s history. This series will review the timeline, steps taken, and innovative measures employed as TWU worked quickly to make a fully online learning environment.
The difficult, but necessary, online transition in review
Facing a global pandemic is new to everyone, universities included. As the battle with COVID-19 became inevitable, Tennessee Wesleyan University was faced with the difficult decision to move all spring classes online.
TWU students took their Spring Break March 2-6, and briefly returned to campus for a week of in-class meetings, before the decision was made to go fully online. Classes were cancelled March 16 and 17, to allow faculty to move their courses into online format before online launch, March 18.
“Over the preceding weekend and these two days (March 16-17), TWU faculty were provided with personalized assistance as well as group workshops on the tools and techniques to effectively teach course material in the online environment,” said TWU Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Grant Willhite. “The focus of the transition was on completing the material for each course so that the learning objectives of the course could be met and assessed.”
The making of a fully online environment in days, not weeks
A transition like this unprecedented one is never easy, and though it was not anticipated to this degree, the University has taken steps in recent years to better prepare for such a drastic move.
“Over the past several years, TWU has transitioned all faculty to laptops with integrated webcams, trained all faculty on the basic use of SAKAI (online learning management system), and set baseline expectations for all courses to have a presence in the online environment,” added Dr. Willhite. “The number of online courses offered at TWU has steadily increased over the past few years with the December mini term offering only online courses.”
Also well timed was the Title III grant received in 2017, which provided $2 million focused on first-year student success. Out of this grant, TWU has funded a student success team which has been vital throughout the transition, as well as an Instructional Technologist position.
“Dr. Christie Patti joined the TWU team in summer 2019 and has provided excellent training and support to faculty as we transitioned to online learning,” said Dr. Willhite. “To leverage the expertise existing on the TWU campus, Dr. Patti and the Office of Academic Affairs identified and funded several faculty mentors who assisted individual faculty in their transition of courses from in-seat to online.”
Due to the combination of intentional enhancement of online learning and the targeted training utilized, TWU was able to successfully move courses online in a matter of days and not weeks. The IT department successfully handled a 64% increase in Help Desk tickets, while maintaining their historical ticket closure rate.