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Columns

Waubonsee Voices: Waubonsee’s move to alternative delivery

Eamon Newman
Eamon Newman

Addressing siloing is a difficult challenge at any large organization. The siloing effect typically refers to several departments working independently and without much interaction with other parts of the organization.

In my experience, Waubonsee genuinely does a great job of connecting units from across the college to work toward the overarching college mission and goals. However, with the Illinois stay-at-home order in place, nearly the entire Waubonsee workforce has been siloed from each other for several months. One might expect the siloing effect to be rampant, but my experience has actually been the exact opposite.

After spring break, the college moved to what we called alternative delivery to allow for remote instruction. Although the college’s alternative delivery strategy was seeded in an intense and confusing time, what grew out of it has significantly transformed the college for the better. When we launched into alternative delivery, it quickly became apparent how resilient and incredibly productive we could be despite the circumstances.

During Waubonsee’s rapid shift to alternative delivery, I kept thinking of “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs. We have had plans to offer flex courses in the pipeline for some time. Flex courses are delivered polysynchronously, which gives students the option to attend class face-to-face, live remotely or online for each class session.

Even as early as the initial planning stages for flex learning, I found myself wishing for a more aggressive and expedited timeline.

Flex depends heavily on several prerequisite technologies, such as a modern learning management system, conferencing tools and multimedia classroom technology.

However, plans we had in place that were scheduled for the next two years suddenly needed to be implemented in two weeks. I will have to be more careful with my next wish!

This summer, Waubonsee has transitioned to using Canvas as its exclusive learning management system.

Canvas was unanimously selected by Waubonsee staff and faculty for its intuitive interface, mobile support and built-in tools to facilitate effective communication. The shift to alternative delivery forced by the coronavirus caught us mid-migration. But thanks to the herculean efforts of everyone involved, the great migration to Canvas was able to stay on schedule!

However, there still are technology gaps and new challenges that appear every day. We also need to be careful when trying to replicate our face-to-face experiences online. An online classroom experience is inherently different, in an apples-to-oranges type of way.

There are many staff and faculty who would prefer to be meeting in person, just as we have many students who prefer attending class face-to-face.

It is easy to become impatient when technology does not work as expected or when otherwise simple in-person tasks do not translate well online.

Now more than ever, it is important to remain as flexible and accommodating as possible. We need to recognize the unique challenges students faced because of the shift to alternative delivery in the spring; we need to move forward using strategies that best allow students to demonstrate what they truly know and have learned.

Expecting alternative delivery and other remote modalities to provide the same experience as face-to-face only sets us up for frustration, whereas if we embrace it, it offers us new and exciting ways to grow.

There will continue to be hiccups, miscommunication, and other frustrating situations that arise. But if we all remember to be as flexible and accommodating as we can, not just with our students but with each other, we will all be stronger for it. COVID-19 has brought about unprecedented changes, and while this is only the beginning, I am confident that it can also be the beginning of many great things to come.

• Eamon Newman is the assistant dean for online learning and flexible delivery at Waubonsee Community College.

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