Since the COVID-19 outbreak hit, Zoom has become a popular source for people to accomplish various social tasks from home.
Many schools have begun requiring it for their students to resume daily classes. Pierce College, however, has advised professors to consider not making it a requirement for students.
According to Dr. Matthew Campbell, vice president of learning and student success at Pierce College, Puyallup, there were a number of inquiries about Zoom when the decision for Pierce to go fully online was made. The Learning and Student Services team viewed all the concerns with synchronous learning before giving any substantial thoughts to completely shifting to Zoom.
Campbell explained how factors like work schedule shifts for essential workers, technological issues and childcare were taken into consideration for the decision.
An example he gave is if, before it was announced all classes would be virtual spring quarter, a student signed up for a class that’s daily at 10am in person. In the stay-home environment, it may not work as well for them on Zoom than in person because of them now having to share a computer with anyone else.
There were also security issues taken into consideration regarding the site that Campbell listed, mostly regarding “Zoom-bombing.” This is when a user hacks into a Zoom meeting and disrupts it with explicit or disruptive content, an increasingly common occurrence as Zoom has grown in popularity. According to National Public Radio’s website, the phenomenon has become so alarming that the FBI has issued a warning about using Zoom.
Greg Brazell, the director of employee engagement, learning and development, said the Learning and Student Services team didn’t necessarily encourage faculty to not use Zoom. Instead, they encouraged them to think about the pros and cons of the site and how to use the tool effectively. They also encouraged faculty to ask students what they needed with synchronous or asynchronous learning.
To help make the online teaching approach easier, Campbell and Brazell explained that the Employee Learning and Development (ELAD) department offered several resources to support faculty in finding effective online approaches that support all students.
This included training on how to best use Zoom, how to deliver content in chunks and how to build in opportunities for student engagement using the virtual classroom app, ConexED and Canvas conferences.
Brazell noted that since Canvas is Pierce College’s primary learning management system, the ELADteam knew it would be used to offer asynchronous and synchronous learning to students. They assisted faculty with transitioning course materials to Canvas and helped them evaluate which approaches would be best for students and faculty.
Both Campbell and Brazell said they didn’t want to mandate anything to professors because they knew different approaches work for different people.
Since spring quarter started, Campbell said he’s heard some good reviews from students and professors who’ve adapted to synchronous class systems. Many of the reviews have all included valuing having the opportunity to have frequent human interactions with each other, like they would in a normal environment.
Nonetheless, assuring equity for all students is still Campbell’s goal when it comes to virtual courses. He explained that the most marginalized students at Pierce don’t have the necessary technology to follow through with required synchronous learning. Distancing them from learning experiences because of the limitations that come with synchronous classes only further marginalized them.
However, it was also noted that the decisions for how classes were to be instructed for spring quarter had very little time to be made. For the summer quarter, Campbell said students can expect to be provided with more information about how each class will be taught before they sign up.
Summer classes will also include more optional synchronous elements besides the few classes where those elements are necessary for the course.
Until then, Campbell said that attending to the needs of students is the main goal the school is striving for right now. There have been over 450 Chromebooks and over 200 Wi-Fi hotspots distributed by Pierce College Puyallup so far.
He explained that if a student has any factor interfering with them being successful in a virtual class, then it’s the school’s job to help them succeed.
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