Engaged Learning from a Safe Distance
April 01, 2020
By Elsa Wenzel
In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, Rollins responds with deep care, quick resolve, and close-knit scholarship to deliver our signature brand of engaged, personalized learning while prioritizing the health and safety of our community.
Rollins College is much more than its physical location on America’s most beautiful campus. It’s the community we foster every day through collaboration and connectedness—a community of people that transcends place. During this time of unprecedented challenges, Rollins is working hard to deliver on its promise of an individualized liberal arts education focused on critical thinking, creativity, and mentorship. We’re opening new windows to real-time virtual learning environments in which the important work of shaping scholars to better their corners of the world is still very much in progress.
Newly established remote learning practices are bringing students and faculty together in powerful virtual spaces, where one-on-one attention and discussion-based classes remain hallmarks of the Rollins experience. Tools like virtual workshops and labs, videoconferencing, message boards, and social media are bringing a Rollins education to students wherever they have landed—across thousands of offices, bedrooms, kitchen counters, and outdoor balconies—in a multitude of cities and small towns, and in more than 60 nations.
We have swiftly embraced social distancing, putting global citizenship and responsible leadership into action and prioritizing the collective safety, health and wellness of our community. Faculty and staff worked around the clock over spring break to build the new infrastructure for remote, synchronous learning, combining the latest digital technologies with evidence-based teaching methods and practices to deliver the South’s No. 1 liberal arts education.
“All the different teams across campus have come together to deliver on a single purpose, making this the best Rollins we possibly can in this new virtual world,” says Susan Singer, vice president for academic affairs and provost. “The ability of the whole campus to come together and rise together is really remarkable. We are blessed with resilient, creative faculty. We’re up for the challenge while caring for ourselves, our students, and each other.”
From reconfiguring established methods of instruction to bringing our unique mentorship model to life virtually, here’s how Rollins is rising to this extraordinary occasion.
We’re offering real-time classes taught by the best professors in the South. Each and every class is meeting in a real-time, synchronous virtual environment via WebEx video meetings and Canvas discussion boards. WebEx not only allows users to have face-to-face conversations, but it also enables class members to share screens and documents.
Rollins’ new synchronous learning is a virtual continuation of the connections and working relationships that have already been developed during the first two months of class in our personalized, intimate learning environment. Our synchronous approach is not the usual one found in online classes from other institutions, many of which offer only asynchronous learning, where students work at their own pace and often never interact with faculty or fellow students. In our synchronous virtual environment, students and professors engage with each other in real time, just as they would in class on campus, asking questions, receiving feedback, and collaborating on solving problems.
Communications professor Josh Hammonds has mastered the at-home work look, becoming an Instagram sensation with his students in the process.
“We’re doing distance learning differently than the way traditional online classes have been done elsewhere for 15 years,” says Gabriel Barreneche, associate dean of advising. “We’re prioritizing individualized learning and ongoing mentoring from professors, just now in a virtual environment.”
Faculty are also taking into account the time zone differences of the international student body. No one is expected to pull an all-nighter just to attend class. So if a student is located on the other side of the planet, where their class takes place between midnight and 5 a.m., they can access a recorded version of a WebEx class. They can then connect via real-time virtual meeting with the faculty member to ask any follow-up questions or get additional feedback.
Support and Guidance
The real-time, personalized environment extends beyond the classroom to advising sessions with our faculty mentors. Students are getting the same sort of individualized guidance they normally receive from our faculty—now it’s just delivered virtually via WebEx or phone. Extensive volleying back-and-forth via email is discouraged in favor of real-time conversations, such as a video call in which an advisor and student can view schedules and class descriptions while they talk face to face or share overall concerns about any academic or personal issues they’re facing.
Peer mentors continue to connect with first-year students in this semester’s Rollins College Conference (RCC) courses on the phone or via video conferencing, sharing everything from advice on next semester’s class schedule to tips they’ve picked up about how to succeed in a virtual learning environment.
“We may not be centrally located on the map, but all the same people who were here before are available now,” says Meghan Harte Weyant, assistant vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “The focus and care on student well-being remains steadfast here at the College. We’re making sure students know that while the way we deliver learning has changed, our quality of care remains the same.”
In addition to academic and personal support, the Center for Career & Life Planning (CCLP) is already deploying its career guidance and preparation services virtually. Since moving to the new Kathleen W. Rollins Hall in January, the center has seen a 65 percent increase in student visits from last year, and the CCLP staff is committed to replicating the same welcoming, useful, helpful experience now in a virtual space.
Resume help, interview prep, career advice, and more are all still available, now just virtually via Handshake, the leading software for the early career community in the U.S. Students can drop into the Career Studio for quick assistance during specified hours via the studio’s WebEx room, and they also have access to one-on-one virtual advising appointments.
Students can stay connected to prospective employers, receive guidance on academic internships, and attend virtual career events via Google Hangout, Skype, and other platforms.
“We remain focused on helping to create paths to meaningful lives and productive careers by advising our students and alumni to think about their Rollins experiences and their education both inside and outside of the classroom,” says Lisa Gilliean-Crump, associate vice president for student affairs, career and life planning.
The Olin Library remains fully staffed and ready to support students in all their research efforts. A large portion of the Olin Library’s extensive collections are accessible virtually, which adds up to nearly a quarter of a million books, more than 113,000 audiovisuals, nearly 160,000 serials, and 96 databases—and those are only the electronic media.
“We’re ready to show what we can do when the instructional world changes,” says Olin Library Director Deborah Prosser. “Academic libraries have been building an online infrastructure of collections and services for over a decade.”
Rollins’ librarians, like other faculty members, have transitioned to virtual synchronous instruction seamlessly, embedding links to library resources in Canvas course pages to make them more discoverable.
“Our librarians are teaching via WebEx, meeting students via WebEx, and privileging electronic collections of books, databases, and journals to meet information needs,” says Prosser.
The Tutoring & Writing Center is also ready for synchronous online tutoring via WebEx, providing the same face-to-face assistance that’s normally available in person. A staff of 40 peer mentors remain committed to offering students a place where they can come together to become more effective, independent learners.
Health and Well-Being
The physical and mental health, safety, and wellness of our students, faculty, staff, and community is always our top priority. Experts at the Rollins Wellness Center are on hand during this crisis, offering phone consultations for all students who seek to discuss resources with a CAPS counselor and create an off-campus care plan. Students in Florida can also access multiple telehealth options for therapy.
In addition, the Wellness Center is in the process of building virtual wellness activities for the community, which will be announced alongside other developments on its Twitter page. As these resources are evolving, the Wellness Center is encouraging students to communicate with their social support system and promote hope between each other, which includes maintaining connections on electronic platforms and phone calls, as well as focusing on routines and schedules.
The focus on health and wellness extends to the classroom as well. For political science professor Chelsea Ebin, it has been critical to ask students about their concerns, particularly around relocating and living off campus. When much of the college was packing up and heading home, she sent a Web questionnaire inquiring about students’ needs, including their work spaces, family and employment obligations, and abilities to complete coursework online. Ebin didn’t want to assume that everybody had access to the same resources off campus.
”The information has been gut-wrenching and really distressing because I’m worried about my students, but it’s also allowed me to be cognizant of the challenges they are facing as I redesign my courses with more flexibility,” says Ebin, who notes that several of her students now have to care for younger siblings or elders at home, or have had to suddenly seek employment. Learn how you can help support students during this difficult time.
Virtual Learning in Action
In preparing for a newly remote return to class, sociology professor Amy McClure grabbed a smartphone and a stuffed fox, sat down at home, and made a fun welcome back video for her students. She carefully thought about crafting a virtual space for dialogue, including think-pair-share discussions on WebEx in which students work together to solve a problem or answer a question. To stimulate peer social support, McClure broke classes into small groups, assigning some students together based around where they used to sit in person.
For the rest of the semester instead of assigning extra credit to attend real-world events, McClure will now give credit for watching TEDx videos or analyzing COVID-19 memes to examine their sociological implications.
Creativity is second nature to art professor Rachel Simmons ’97, who teaches four classes to 50 students on highly visual topics such as comic books, printmaking, and visual journals. Away from her campus studio, she is logging into WebEx from her home studio in Orlando to instruct students across the U.S., in Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Japan, and Greece. Simmons’ recent visual journal class did a “tear and share” presentation and critique on WebEx, holding up artworks to the camera and presenting their individual projects.
“It was kind of cool to see how spread out we are but we’re still a little group making things,” says Simmons, noting how Rollins’ emphasis on global citizenship has taken on a new depth. “It’s not just that the Rollins community includes citizens from all over the world, but it’s also that we’re citizens of Rollins wherever we go around the globe.”
Virtual Learning Resources
For a detailed guide to Rollins’ virtual learning resources, visit Your Guide to Virtual Learning.
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