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Ready to Deliver

CSUMB faculty, staff ready for a remote Fall 2020 semester

Christopher Beem, Jeff McCall, Luz Espanola and Richie Cobb on a Zoom meeting.
Photo by: Jeff McCall

By Walter Ryce

Published August 16, 2020

CSUMB is primed to teach safely, effectively, yet remotely in the fall semester. That is the result of a lot of work and collaboration by many people and departments. Here are just a few of them.

Provost Katherine Kantardjieff

When the coronavirus pandemic reached the United States, Katherine Kantardjieff, CSUMB’s new provost as of July 1, was the founding Dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics at CSU San Marcos. She says in March the CSU’s response, turning to online learning, was uneven.

“The future was here,” she said. “Some [faculty] were doing it, some weren’t. Some were scared to try it.”

She described the closing of campuses and switching to remote learning in mid-spring as a turning of a big ship that was done with haste to stay ahead of the virus. It also bought the CSUs time to plan more deliberate measures. One of those was CSUMB’s Remote Teaching Summer Institute, which trained 309 faculty to use digital tools to teach online.

She and Michael Scott, the chair of Mathematics & Statistics, want to know how it went. They emailed a survey last Friday, Aug. 14, asking for feedback on what went well and what could be better.

Another deliberate measure was to make distance learning equitable and inclusive by including laptop and basic internet in students’ financial aid package. There is even loaner equipment that students can check out. Kantardjieff says that because Monterey County is on the watchlist for having too high of a positive coronavirus testing result, the university cannot yet open study spaces.

“My concern is students who don’t have a quiet place to study,” she said. “Maybe there’s a lot of people at home.”

Coronavirus isn’t the only challenge educators are facing.

“The purpose of our work is being questioned,” Kantardjieff said. “Higher education was already being viewed skeptically. We want to show that education is important to a person’s life.”

Environmental Health, Safety & Risk Management

Charged with preventing injury and illness, and increasing safety, Environmental Health, Safety & Risk Management has been on the frontlines between COVID-19 and the campus population.

As the pandemic was heading toward CSUMB, EHSRM began implementing countermeasures. They helped institute sheltering in place and working remotely to reduce the density of the on-campus population. In March the Incident Management Team and Emergency Operations Center were activated to coordinate planning. The Infectious Disease Response Team was established to monitor and advise the cabinet on the coronavirus—which happened as early as January.

They’ve communicated information by email and through the website, enlisting everyone’s help in the efforts under the maxim “If you see something, say something.”

This past summer they held frequent meetings with different constituents, established protocols for suspected and positive COVID-19 case management, and developed training and safety guidelines for employees working in critical business functions.

“The Service Learning Institute did extraordinary work with the Monterey County Office of Education to plan for K-12 classroom support by developing and implementing new protocol,” said EHSRM Director Amy Thomas. “And the Master of Physician Assistant program did stellar safety planning work and implementation to continue in-person clinical work and instruction for their students.”

Students in that program also volunteered at the COVID-19 Alternate Care Site at Marina Airport, which was built by a coalition of the county and the four local hospitals in the event that patients overun hospital capacity.

Center for Academic Technologies

CSUMB’s Center for Academic Technologies (CAT), which merges tech and teaching, has been uniquely ready for the remote teaching that the coronavirus has necessitated.

Jeff McCall, Associate Director of CAT, said, “The joke in our staff meetings has been, 'Well, we've been preparing for this for 25 years, time to shine.' And shine my crew has.”

CAT and the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment (TLA) ran the Remote Teaching Summer Institute, a series of workshops over Zoom comprised of 309 faculty and 30 faculty mentors, focusing primarily on preparation for remote teaching and upholding a quality learning experience through it.

“Some subjects are a challenge to teach remotely,” said McCall. “Think chemistry, film, or art. They are taught by instructors, and taken by students, who never expected to be in this situation. So the courses have changed and the people involved have changed and are challenged in new ways.”

CAT will continue to run workshops and have drop-in hours during Welcome Week, while serving as admins for Zoom, iLearn and Canvas.

“Many people toss around the term 'unprecedented,’” McCall said. “There really is no other term that fits. Think about it: the CSU alone will have over half a million students learning remotely this fall. It boggles the mind.”

Student Affairs / Enrollment Services

There’s been much concern about the distance modality depressing enrollment numbers, but Ronnie Higgs, Vice President of Student Affairs / Enrollment Services, reports that those concerns have proved unfounded. Last fall enrollment was 7,242; this fall it’s 7,174.

“Less than 1 percent decline,” he says. “Or, 0.94 to be exact. We are pleased with these numbers especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Breaking down those numbers further, he found that the African American student make-up is 4 percent, while he would like to see it closer to statewide percentages of about 6 percent. But he said that Asian-American cohort has seen an increase, and Latinx enrollment has increased for the 4th year in a row.

“The vibrancy of campus life is not available to first-time freshmen who usually look toward those kinds of events to get acclimated to college life,” Higgs said. “We have to use existing tools to move in-person gatherings online to create social connections that students usually get in dining halls and late-night study sessions. We have to create virtual spaces in lieu of physical ones.”

He said that doing so effectively is a matter of access and equity, as well as recreating the social connection and energy of in-person learning.

The Center for Teaching, Learning & Assessment

The mission the Center for Teaching, Learning & Assessment (TLA) is to help teachers to teach more effectively. They do so with professional development programs, teaching and learning resources, and collaborative opportunities for all CSUMB educators (which include faculty, student affairs, staff, students and community partners).

“We care about and support our faculty over the life of their careers,” said TLA Interim Director Vivian Waldrup-Patterson.

Their assessment processes were commended by the WASC accreditation committee, and helped CSUMB garner its 10-year accreditation.

“When the pandemic hit and stay-at-home orders were issued,” Waldrup-Patterson said, “we immediately created the Remote Teaching home page and CAT/TLA newsletter.”

Through the newsletter, they offered up a menu of articles, videos, webinars and training. One article was titled “Interrogating Your Discipline, and Other Ways Into Anti-Racist Teaching.”

In addition to the faculty engagement of the Summer Institute, Waldrup-Patterson said there was a focus on students too: “The summer institute training and workshops provided ways to increase student engagement online using discussion forums, polling, projects quizzes, and more.”

The work continues. The Welcome Back activities kicked off at 9am Monday, Aug. 17, with President Eduardo Ochoa’s welcome address to CSUMB faculty and staff over Zoom. But the next day is TLA’s show, when they conduct breakout sessions for returning and new faculty all day starting at 1:30pm with a remote teaching panel that will go over lessons from the 2020 Summer Institute.

“TLA is a small unit relative to other departments,” Waldrup-Patterson said. “But we are a mighty force at delivering professional development.”

Student Housing & Residential Life

Jeff Cooper, Director of Student Housing & Residential Life, says that as the pandemic was gaining traction in California, they moved very quickly under the guidance of CSUMB administration to vacate on-campus housing and consolidate remaining students into specific buildings.

“That allowed us to provide increased cleaning and sanitation while also monitoring the safety and security of students,” Cooper said.

The number of students housed on campus will remain small for fall, and move-in procedures will be entirely contactless. Cooper expects to maintain all or most procedures, programs, opportunities and support for those resident students—only digitally. And their multi-tier, in-person crisis response will be in person, but with distancing guidelines. The entire move-in process will be contactless.

Cooper said that they have ideas about how to navigate the winter break and spring semester, but that “we are awaiting information and guidance from the state, CSU system, and our campus administration to determine next steps.”

He said they will monitor COVID-19 as it evolves and will heed the advice of experts.

Tomorrow and beyond

The variables are many, and Provost Kantardjieff said events and knowledge are evolving rapidly.

“It can change tomorrow,” she said. “This is a dynamic situation. But we are all here because we have a set of shared values, and we believe in the mission.”

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