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Distance Learning

Transition to virtual classes successful thanks to innovation, cooperation, community

Screenshot of a Zoom videoconference
Photo by: CSUMB
CSUMB faculty and staff meet via a Zoom videoconference after the change to limited campus operations in March.

By Sophia Huang McKenzie

Updated on May 12, 2020

When CSU Monterey Bay moved to limited campus operations in March to slow the spread of COVID-19, all classes shifted to virtual instruction in just one week.

Chief Information Officer Chip Lenno reported that between 500 to 800 videoconference meetings took place daily in the first week of distance learning. More than 480 instructors taught over 7,600 students on Zoom, the videoconferencing service contracted with the California State University (CSU) system

Historically innovative and a leader in online learning, CSUMB was better prepared than many institutions to make the change. In recent years, CSUMB was among the first CSU campuses to offer degrees through Cal State Online, a system-wide initiative launched in 2013 to expand access to fully online bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

The university announced on May 12 that virtual instruction will continue through the summer session and the fall 2020 semester, with "very limited exceptions."

“In my department, we feel like we've been preparing for this for 25 years! The Center for Academic Technologies (CAT) has been offering teacher training, workshops and support in one form or another since the university opened,” said Jeff McCall, center director.

Amid the confusion and uncertainty college students and faculty across the U.S. and abroad were experiencing during the early announcements about COVID-19, CSUMB’s faculty got it right by making the care and concern for their students the No. 1 priority."
Vivian Waldrup-Patterson, TLA director

He described the CAT team as “without a doubt the finest group of professionals I could hope for. They’ve worked tirelessly and patiently with faculty to train them, guide them, and frequently console them. All of the success is theirs.”

Care for Students

Perhaps most importantly, the university’s sense of community and the faculty’s care for students proved invaluable in successfully moving to remote teaching and learning.

“Amid the confusion and uncertainty college students and faculty across the U.S. and abroad were experiencing during the early announcements about COVID-19, CSUMB’s faculty got it right by making the care and concern for their students the No. 1 priority,” said Vivian Waldrup-Patterson, director of the university’s Center for Teaching, Learning and Assessment (TLA).

Waldrup-Patterson, McCall and Dan Shapiro, interim associate vice president for Academic Planning and Institutional Effectiveness, have led CSUMB’s transition to distance learning.

“Without a doubt, what has gotten us this far has been the caring of faculty for their students. There's a huge sense of community that existed before this crisis and it persists. Even though we're a 'grown-up' university, there's still the feeling of a small town,” McCall said.

When shelter-at-home orders were issued, McCall’s team received an email about a student whose roommates moved out and took all the dishes and furniture, along with the internet modem and router.

“Not one, but several people came together and dropped off things to help. We also connected the student with the Care Team. I'm sure there are many stories like that,” McCall said.

CSUMB’s Care Team, a department of the Office of Student Life, provides coordinated assistance and support to students in distress.

Working Together

McCall, Waldrup-Patterson and Shapiro have been meeting daily to develop and deliver best practices, resources, training and workshops, and to provide ongoing support to faculty.

“In addition to CAT’s amazing instructional designer support staff, a group of faculty mentors was assembled to offer additional one-on-one technology and teaching and learning guidance and support,” Waldrup-Patterson said.

They’ve also continued regular meetings via Zoom with CSUMB President Eduardo M. Ochoa, Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, and others at department and college levels to share information and keep important campus initiatives moving forward.

Ochoa praised the faculty’s efforts in a video message soon after the changes took place.

“I understand that the faculty are having to cope with a transition that is unprecedented in scope and speed in terms of modalities of instruction. It’s all a tremendous challenge, but people have really taken a very positive, can do collaborative attitude. I’m just really awed by your dedication and your heart,” he said.

It’s all a tremendous challenge, but people have really taken a very positive, can do collaborative attitude. I’m just really awed by your dedication and your heart."
President Eduardo M. Ochoa

Waldrup-Patterson and McCall both expressed gratitude for colleagues at the CSU Chancellor’s Office and at CSUMB’s 22 sister campuses who have proven to be tremendous resources.

“Not a week goes by that I don’t talk to several of them, getting and giving mentorship, sharing ideas and strategies. I’m truly in awe of the skills, knowledge, and professionalism of this group,” McCall said.

Multiple Resources

To help CSUMB faculty, the TLA and CAT created a Keep Teaching homepage as a centralized repository for resources, best practices, articles, training, workshop schedules and more. The centers also began to circulate a weekly newsletter to help faculty stay in touch, share new information, and solicit feedback from one another.

The newsletter includes resources for faculty on supporting themselves and their students, improving remote teaching, and using remote learning technologies, as well as resources on creating equitable and inclusive remote learning environments, Waldrup-Pattersons said.

For students, the Keep Calm and Otter On(line) toolkit, available at the TLA homepage, provides resources, information, and best practices. Students who need computers or have wi-fi issues can receive assistance from the Dean of Students. The Cooperative Learning Center now offers tutoring services online, and the CSUMB library holds a large collection of digital materials always accessible online.

What’s Next

As the spring semester draws to a close, Waldrup-Patterson said students, faculty and staff will have a chance to “take a few deep breaths” and “reflect on the remote learning experience.”

What’s next?

“Keep what worked and eliminate what did not. Get the training and support that is needed, incorporate the lessons learned,” she said. “Press the reset button, then ‘Keep Teaching and Keep Learning’ in accordance with CSUMB's mission, vision, and commitment to our students.”

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