Positivity, flexibility, grace, resilience—this is how students and faculty pivot from traditional on-campus education to a new virtual learning experience in a week’s time.
Shippensburg University, much like the rest of the country, is a beautiful but barren campus today. The life that drives that campus is not gone—it’s simply shifted to a new space. As the COVID-19 pandemic closed campuses nationwide, it opened up new opportunities for Ship to charge on with distance learning.
Students are staying positive about the transition and how they will successfully complete the spring semester. “This is a difficult and unplanned occurrence to happen to all of us,” said Madison Raeburn, a first-year international business major from Phoenixville Area High School, adding “I plan to stay focused during online classes by creating a schedule for myself and checking D2L daily.”
“I plan to stay positive and successful by making a schedule, but also allowing time to relax and keep my mental health strong,” said senior marketing major Gavin George.
Dreux Stamford, a graduate student in the organizational development and leadership program, said he misses many things about the Shippensburg community, such as engaging with other students during class and coaching the track and field team.
Despite these losses, Stamford sees a brighter side to this new normal. “Personally, online classes are slightly easier for me because it allows me to choose when I get work done versus meeting every week at a specific time for lecture. It obviously isn’t as engaging as face-to-face courses, but the time we have to learn on our own, for me, makes it easier.”
“We couldn’t predict at the beginning of the semester that these changes would be thrust upon us, or that we’d have about a week to feel as prepared as we possibly could to move forward,” said Dr. Matthew Shupp, associate professor for the Department of Counseling and College Student Personnel. Yet, faculty, students, and staff are rallying together to make this an invaluable educational experience.
This adjustment has been challenging, but Shupp said, “I am continually impressed with our faculty’s ability to pivot—abruptly—and figure out best ways to move student learning online with the least amount of disruption as possible.”
Ship faculty and staff are working hard to create a learning environment as interactive as in-person courses. Dr. Lynn Baynum, associate professor of teacher education, plans to continue her discussions and group-based classes through special assignments for her students. “It is my hope that these ongoing interactions will not only support students while they complete the assignment, but perhaps more importantly, provide them with an opportunity to remain part of a classroom community.”
Dr. Mohammad Rahman, associate professor of marketing, looks at the positive aspects of distance learning. “My approach is taking this new venture as a learning experience for students and myself,” Rahman said. “There will be some mishaps and missed deadlines, but if we are willing to work together in these learning experiences, then we will be able to learn as well as know that other students and faculty are going through the same experience as everyone.”
Ship’s IT department played a crucial role in preparing professors and students to transition to virtual courses by holding informative training sessions that helped integrate D2L and Zoom into professors’ daily instruction.
Dr. Barbara Denison, graduate professor and head of the organizational development and leadership program, said that as faculty plan their coursework through different methods, it’s also important to consider what students are facing at home.
“Students have had their routines and lives at their schools abruptly ended, and may be scrambling for new jobs, or to find food and shelter, or to help out as their families are trying to shelter in place,” she said. Denison spent two very busy weeks finding ways to make coursework meaningful, “but simultaneously less stressful, less demanding, and more supportive of where students find themselves in this crisis moment.”
Moving forward, Stamford believes this time will teach us all “to not take things for granted.” He hopes that students, faculty, and staff find a new appreciation for the Shippensburg community.