Keep Teaching and Learning

By Patrick Bohn ’05, March 27, 2020
IC faculty and students adapt to remote instruction.

Faculty on the Front Lines of Change

Since the start of the week, Ithaca College students and faculty members have had to adapt to a “new temporary” of remote instruction in the wake of the global coronavirus outbreak. Hundreds of faculty members in each of IC’s five schools have begun teaching thousands of students virtually, using tools such as Zoom, Sakai and Microsoft Teams. And it’s been an adjustment for everyone, both on the front lines, and behind the scenes.

“My students’ first assignment was to clarify and share their specific goals for the remainder of the semester,” said Dawn Pierce, associate professor of performance studies in the School of Music. “I imagine, just like the rest of the world situation right now, that things will continue to be fluid even within the structure I’ve created to help foster the learning environment my students requested.”

Dawn Poerce Workstation

Dawn Pierce’s workstation features a makeshift table above her keyboard, built by her husband. (Photo submitted)

What’s that environment look like? For Pierce, it’s about planning, patience and flexibility.

“A bulk of my teaching is one on one,” she said. “I’ve spoken with every student and worked carefully with them to come up with a curriculum that accommodates their current resources, needs and goals.  At Ithaca College, we know that every student has access to beautiful practice rooms with pianos. Many students don’t have this at home.

“I have one student who can only sing and practice in her home after 8 p.m. due to her family situation,” Pierce continued.  “My family situation does not allow me to teach after 8 p.m. We came up with an asynchronous approach where she is sending me videos when she can sing, and I respond when I can sing. We are making it work.”

The effort of professors in keeping the students their main focus is being recognized. “Our faculty have demonstrated incredible creativity and diligence in the face of this challenge,” said Dr. La Jerne Terry Cornish, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Ithaca College. “As always, they have kept students at the center of their work.”

Students Thriving in New Environments

student with a laptop

First-year student Grace Collins '23 works in her family's garage in Clinton, N.Y.

One such student is Grace Collins ’23, an integrated marketing communications major whose workstation is currently a portion of her family’s garage in Clinton, N.Y. She says that while it’s been an adjustment, she’s slowly started to feel more comfortable in her temporary learning environment.

“You obviously can’t perfectly replicate in-person classes online, but I don’t feel like there’s any learning that I’m going to be missing out on,” she said. “All of my professors have made it very clear that we’re still going to meet each of the learning objectives of our courses.”

For Collins, some of the biggest gestures her professors have made aren’t just about helping them successfully complete assignments in a different format.

“Within a few days of the announcement that IC would be transitioning to online learning, my professors made a point to check in on how we were doing and offer to talk to us about anything that was worrying us,” she said. “It was very clear that they care about us as people and not just as students, and they’re willing to go above and beyond and be flexible to help us succeed throughout the rest of the semester.”

“Our faculty have demonstrated incredible creativity and diligence in the face of this challenge. As always, they have kept students at the center of their work.”

Dr. La Jerne Terry Cornish, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs

Leah Aulisio-Sharpe ’22 has returned to Oberlin, Ohio to continue her studies in journalism, where her professors’ attentiveness has been incredibly helpful.

“My professors have been so helpful and understanding during this transition,” she said. “They want us to feel that they are just as accessible as they were on-campus, and are spending time connecting with us on how we are all doing.”

student with laptop at home

Malick Mercier '21 at home in New York City.

And although there has been an adjustment period—Aulisio-Sharpe said she occasionally reminds herself it’s okay to take time to acclimate to these changes — there have also been some pleasant surprises. 

“Using Zoom and other forms of remote contact has pushed students to communicate more with each other,” she said. “I feel like I have connected more with classmates over this time in some of my classes than I did when we were on campus.”          

Malick Mercier '21, a journalism and sociology major, said he feels like he's finding his footing.

"It's a much needed light with all the darkness outside my front door in New York City," he said. "I’m working through this time by trying to feel it all, and by choosing to be grateful for what it has brought me. I’m grateful for my understanding professors.  I love getting to see them and my classmates on Zoom and waving at them is a light in the day as is FaceTiming with friends, and getting to spend more time on personal passion projects."  

Daniel Hutchinson ’23

Daniel Hutchinson ’23, a psychology major and member of the IC football team, is able to connect with his classmates from West Palm Beach, Florida.

The technological aspects of this transition are some of the most critical, but like Aulisio-Sharpe, West Palm Beach, Florida, native Daniel Hutchinson ’23 has found it helpful.

“Zoom has been very beneficial to my learning,” he said. “It’s really keeping me on course with learning and allowing me to have class discussions and not miss much. It can be hard at times, but we will get through it.”                               

Faculty members added that, as they and students navigate this challenge together, additional positives may emerge.

“I realize this time of uncertainty can also bring anxiety,” Dr. Sean Eversley Bradwell, assistant professor of education, said in a video message for students. “And, as a historian of education, and a student of Hip Hop culture, I know that uncertainty can also bring a time of great innovation and creativity. I wanted to let you know your faculty are here for you, and I look forward to being creative and innovative as we move forward together.”

Dr. Sean Eversley Bradwell was one of several Ithaca College faculty members who recorded a supportive message to students.

Information Superhighway

Right now, innovation and creativity are being shown everywhere in the Ithaca College community, particularly from the college’s information technology department and staff.

According to David Weil, the college’s associate vice president and chief information officer, on March 23, the first day the college transitioned to remote instruction, there were 1,567 Zoom meetings featuring 20,857 participants. Additionally, there were 32,126 minutes of Kaltura instructional videos viewed, and many Teams meetings.

Those numbers represent drastic increases from the same time last year, which has meant the college’s IT department has had to make their own changes to accommodate increased need.

The department has created a virtual extended service desk, which has 11 additional staff members — reassigned from other IT positions — offering extended hours and answering queries through a new online chat feature, as well as by phone and email.

“The investments in people and technologies and the partnerships across campus and with our vendors that we’ve made over the past years really enabled us to relatively seamlessly make the transition to 100% online.”

David Weil, associate vice president and chief information officer

professor teaching online

James Rothenberg, associate professor of sociology, teaches a course via Zoom.

So far, the department has managed to handle a 500% increase in capacity for Sakai Concurrent Connections and a 100% increase in virtual lab machines, while loaning out hundreds of laptops.

They’ve also hosted numerous chat and web sessions throughout the week, integrated Zoom into all Sakai courses, and posted instructional how-to videos. The department has also partnered with the Provost’s office, the Center for Faculty Excellence, the library and the Office of Extended Studies to host other workshops and webinars.

“There was no playbook for this,” Weil said. “We had to gear up to support a huge increase in people using our services and at the same time, figure out how we were going to do that knowing that our service desk and teaching and learning support teams might not be able to even come onto campus and would have to provide that support from their homes spread across five counties.”

One thing that’s aided the transition has been the recent commitment the college has made in technology improvements.

“The investments in people and technologies and the partnerships across campus and with our vendors that we’ve made over the past years really enabled us to relatively seamlessly make the transition to 100% online,” Weil said. “Without those investments and relationships, the switch would have been much more difficult.”

IT by the numbers

The transition to online instruction has required a massive effort by the college’s information technology department. How big? Take a look:

  • 11 — The number of staff members temporarily reassigned to the extended service desk
  • 100+ — The number of loaner laptops distributed to members of the college community
  • 1,567 — The number of Zoom meetings held on March 23, 2020, the first day of classes following the college’s extended spring break
  • 32,126 — The number of minutes of Kaltura instructional video viewed that same day
  • 100% — The percent increase in virtual lab machines
  • 500% — The percent increase in capacity for Sakai Concurrent Connections

Instead, the IT department, along with others across campus, came together as a virtual village, tasked with educating thousands of students.

“This week, thanks to the world-class support offered by the Teaching and Learning with Technology team, the library, and the Center for Faculty Excellence, we observed a smooth transition to a remote learning protocol so that our students can continue to engage with the intellectually rich opportunities their faculty are offering them,” said Cornish.

As a result of the efforts of thousands of Ithaca College community members working together, they’ve managed to make the best of an unprecedented occurrence.

“Our faculty and students are bravely pushing ahead into our remote instructional period, often while worried about their own health and the health of others, while caring for their own children or sharing spaces with siblings, parents, and partners who also are home, and while managing a range of unrehearsed disruptions to daily life,” said Jeane Copenhaver-Johnson, the college’s associate provost for academic programs. “We find their commitment to pursuing the academic experience inspiring."

Additional Resources

A number of resources for faculty and students have been created to help ease the transition to remote instruction including: