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Columns

Waubonsee Voices: Agency amongst uncertainty

Dr. Laura Ortiz
Dr. Laura Ortiz

“I got in!” “I’ve been accepted!” “My top pick!” The flurry of excitement as the college acceptance letters started coming in early last spring. My daughter and her friends, my niece, my friends’ and colleagues’ children -- all members of the high school Class of 2020. Then, the pandemic. The sudden transition to remote learning. The cancellation of prom, and later, graduation. No graduation parties. College. So many unknowns. “Do I go?” “If I don’t go, will I miss out?” “Is it safe?” “Will everything be online?” “Will the cafeteria be open?” “Campus life?” “Do I want to pay so much money to be trapped in my dorm room alone?” “What happens if I get COVID?” “Where will I quarantine?” “Who will take care of me?” Excitement to uncertainty.

Each college-bound young adult made their decision. My daughter chose to study at Waubonsee. My niece departed for Iowa State. Others went off to Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Southern Illinois University, Columbia College Chicago, University of Illinois, while others are living at home and attending local community colleges. Their college experiences thus far have been as unique as each individual. One didn’t feel safe and came home after three days, one loves it, one has been quarantined twice, one persisted through five weeks of isolation and boxed meals before coming home, and others continue to make the best of their socially distanced college life. Just as these new college students had to make their decisions, institutions of higher education had to make theirs.

The beauty and the challenge of community colleges in Illinois is that while governed and guided by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the Illinois Community College Board, and the Higher Learning Commission, each institution operates quite independently. While this provides each college the ability to distinguish itself, create a distinct organizational culture, and identify the best ways to serve their unique communities, it also adds a tremendous, often overwhelming, layer of decision-making due to the plethora of variables. Thus the parallel between the number of decisions an institution makes to become student-ready and those that students make to ensure they select the right college to holistically meet their academic, personal, and professional goals. Here at Waubonsee, we have conferred with our faculty, surveyed our students, and analyzed the enrollment data, to provide five structured and supported options for our students to engage with their learning. It’s called MyChoice.

While taking into account busy schedules and complex lives, MyChoice provides students with the agency to select the best learning environment for them, from traditional to ultra-flexible. When spring registration opened on Nov. 2, students were able to see courses offered in one or more of the following five modalities:

1) Face-to-Face: Classes meet in a traditional classroom setting on one of Waubonsee’s four campuses

2) Online: Courses are delivered 100% asynchronously online through Canvas, Waubonsee’s Learning Management System

3) Hybrid: A blend of face-to-face class meetings in a traditional classroom and asynchronous online learning through Canvas

4) Sync Online: Classes meet on regularly scheduled days and times via Zoom, allowing students to engage with faculty and peers in real time

5) Flex: Classes meet face-to-face in a Flex-equipped classroom and are simultaneously live-streamed and recorded through Zoom. After each class, the Zoom recording is posted in Canvas so that students may view or review each session online. For each session, students may engage in-person in the classroom, virtually via Zoom, or online asynchronously, according to their preferences and needs.

Within the context of a global pandemic, racial injustice, economic volatility, climate change, and divisive politics, life in these United States has presented today’s college students with many uncertainties; however, Waubonsee’s faculty and staff are committed to consistently provide high-quality, inclusive learning experiences, academic and student support services, and engaging and meaningful student life events and programs. And while Waubonsee cannot eliminate these uncertainties, we can offer a safe, compassionate, diverse, and inclusive community of learners, access to high-quality, affordable education close to home, and yes, supported choice. Who’s choice? MyChoice.

• Dr. Laura Ortiz is the dean for Faculty Development and Engagement at Waubonsee Community College.

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