Virtual classroom tools used at Wallace State make remote learning engaging and seamless

Wallace State President Dr. Vicki Karolewics has conducted multiple employee meetings virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

HANCEVILLE, Ala. – They say necessity is the mother of invention. That was certainly the case at Wallace State during the spring semester, as the COVID-19 pandemic spurred unprecedented innovation in classroom instruction. Like so many colleges across the country, Wallace State transitioned abruptly to totally online delivery and remote work in mid-March. Luckily, the college already had many classes and programs already being taught online, with systems in place and peer mentors to smooth the transition for others.

Wallace State instructors used multiple options to connect through virtual classrooms, including Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, a real-time video conferencing tool that allows instructors to connect face-to-face with students, share applications and documents, and teach as if the class was in a live setting. If students aren’t comfortable with online face-to-face interaction, there are Chat features to connect, and instructors are capable of recording the classroom sessions and posting them for students who missed class as well as for those who want to go back and view it again.

Most instructors scheduled these virtual class meetings with their classes at the same time they met during the traditional setting.

Math instructor Melissa Arnold transitioned her Math 098, 100 and 112 courses to a virtual setting.

“Math isn’t the easiest subject to transition to if you’re comfortable with a traditional setting, but my students responded well. It’s important to keep the same classroom times available as if we were on campus, and the students seemed to benefit from watching the recordings, even if they were present for the session. It’s a good review tool,” Arnold said. “I enjoy students completing math equations and the problem solving required, so I missed the evaluation part of math equations and questions. Because it wasn’t planned, I altered the format of my tests, relying more on other question formats like multiple choice. That was different.”

Coincidentally, Arnold is pursuing her doctorate degree in distance learning.

“When we made the switch, I emailed my instructors and thanked them for preparing me for a situation like this,” Arnold said.

Wallace State’s traditional classes already had some online components offered on Blackboard. Computer Science provides just one example.

“We have many videos embedded and posted in Blackboard, and Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is a great way to calm the fears of those students who need the face-to-face interaction and instruction. It’s an excellent tool that I can see being utilized in the future for all classes, no matter if it’s traditional, online or hybrid,” said Penny Aldridge, a Wallace State Computer Science instructor. “It’s user-friendly and easily accessible through our Blackboard learning management platform. It’s a great place to record and save lectures for all class formats.”

Among the Wallace State academic programs at Wallace State, biology and anatomy classes were previously offered in a live classroom setting.

That virtual transition was also successful after incorporating new methods.

“It was an instantaneous change. We didn’t have time to prepare, but my students rose to the occasion. Communication was key in a time like that. With biology, there are going to be challenges. You have logistical things to work on. It’s hard to put a scalpel in someone’s hands in the middle of March and expect them to succeed without hands-on instruction,” said Wallace State biology instructor Connie Briehn, who has transitioned multiple BIO 103 and BIO 104 courses. “Our department relied heavily on the Blackboard Collaborate feature. We used it to share tests, online labs and other teaching tools. I don’t think you can properly replace a true lab setting online, but all of those avenues helped our students succeed.”

Wallace State student Peter Howell was enrolled in three traditional courses (Biology 202 – Human Anatomy and Physiology II, Freshman Seminar – ORI 110 and Fundamentals of Oral Communication – SPH 106) before the virtual shift.

“The transition was definitely different for each class, especially for Biology 202. For the lab part, we had to rely on more pictures than live examination, but it didn’t inhibit my ability to understand the information presented,” Howell said. “The main positive was simply having more time to devote to my classes and being able to focus on them more specifically. I think it will help all education systems become more virtually efficient and adaptable.” The biggest adjustment, he said, was in the style of communication. “You don’t realize how much communication takes place in an in-person class. Nonetheless, all of my instructors were great during the transition, keeping students updated with the information we needed to succeed.”

Howell added his instructors used both Blackboard Collaborate and Zoom to set up virtual classrooms. Other departments on campus incorporated Zoom meetings, Loom how-to videos, chats, and other ways to connect.

Briehn credits Wallace State’s Information Technology Department for its considerable efforts in assisting during the conversion and McGraw Hill for allowing students to access many of its online resources for free during the pandemic.

Wallace State has conducted virtual employee meetings on Blackboard Collaborate, Facebook and Instagram Live sessions for students, and Zoom sessions related to mental health, student services and other support services. These interactive sessions, especially those led by Wallace State President Dr. Vicki Karolewics, are always popular, and have garnered hundreds of views.

Student services staff and others are also available virtually to assist students with enrollment issues, and other needs they may have as a result of the crisis.

Registration for summer semester at Wallace State is currently underway. Whether classes will begin online and transition to campus later in the semester is still being determined. The summer 10-week full term and 5-week mini-term classes will begin May 20.  A second 5-week mini-term will begin June 25.

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