The past few weeks have been anything but ordinary for community colleges across Alabama. As the nation experiences a world-wide, unprecedented pandemic, the leadership, faculty, and staff at Northeast Alabama Community College (NACC) have remained calm and laser-focused on their students.
The Alabama Community College System (ACCS) was forced to modify instruction at each of its 24 institutions in a matter of days, transitioning each college to online-only instruction for the remainder of the spring semester. For the faculty and staff at NACC, being well prepared has been the key to success.
NACC President Dr. David Campbell weighed in on the situation. “These are horrible, tragic times with the coronavirus pandemic occurring,” Dr. Campbell stated. “Our faculty and staff are using our educational technology to provide a quality education for our students during these very trying times. Our educational technology support staff has really kept us going in this effort. I commend everyone’s leadership and dedication to helping our students.”
Thanks to the leadership and foresight of Dr. David Campbell, Northeast’s Educational Technology Support Department (ETS) has been equipped with the necessary tools for online-only instruction for quite some time. According to Director of Educational Technology Patricia Falk, “We are always using the best technology at NACC!”
Technology resources at NACC are second to none. The Learning Management System (LMS) allows instructors to hold virtual classes much in the same manner as their face to face classes. Instructors can create video lectures with or without quizzes using a tool called Canvas Studio. Students can submit all work online as well. NACC also offers secure online exams using proctoring tools like Respondus, Lockdown Browser with Monitor, and Proctorio for students with Chromebooks.
Northeast also licenses Microsoft Office 365, making it available for free to all NACC faculty, staff, and students. Within the Office365 package, there are numerous tools available including Teams, SharePoint, Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more. Although this feature was in place before the COVID-19 outbreak, faculty, staff, and students are using it now more than ever.
Technology Learning Center Director Judith Lea speaks to NACC’s readiness, saying, “I feel we were very prepared and have made very little modification to what we were doing. Students and faculty have always had access to Office365. During the transition we were able to integrate Microsoft Teams directly into Canvas allowing instructors to hold a team meeting (virtual class) by creating a link for students. We have used this transition to bring all instructors on board to the many great technologies we have at NACC.”
Resources like Microsoft Teams has allowed faculty and staff to stay connected during this telecommuting time. Departments and administrators have been able to have staff meetings to share updates, collaborate on different issues, and have some social enjoyment seeing each other through the video chat portal.
Amid the sudden change of scenery, faculty and staff at Northeast were well equipped as they transitioned to working remotely from their respective homes. NACC’s ETS department quickly implemented a “grab and go” program, putting computers and printers in the hands of every staff member and student in need. This program created a seamless transition to online instruction, and students continued in their courses without hiccups. Having over 600 computers readily available allowed this program to be successful.
Educational Technology Support is also equipped with a remote access software, which has proved to be invaluable during this telecommuting period. This tool is used to offer IT support to faculty and staff, as ETS staff can remotely access, manage, and offer technical support to the entire NACC community.
Using this software to request and receive help remotely has taken the normal technology frustrations that faculty and staff may have had away. ETS can access computers, chat with the individual, and provide immediate assistance to meet the needs of the faculty or staff member or student. This process was streamlined ever further for online instruction. ETS implemented the use of the “Help Me” button to initiate a help request. This notifies ETS staff that someone is waiting online for assistance and hurries the process along.
The Educational Technology Department also created a new webpage for easy access to online resources. The new Continuity Tools webpage offers countless resources and videos for faculty, staff, and students on how to stay connected and troubleshoot any problem imaginable. Students can access tutoring options, Canvas online learning, Respondus Lockdown Browser, and more. Faculty and staff can learn how to transfer their office phones, check their voicemail from home, access Office365 apps, and contact the ETS Help Desk with one click.
The key to NACC’s success in transitioning to online-only instruction and telecommuting is simply being prepared. There was no instruction time lost enrolling students in an online system. One simple training session had all instructors up to speed on how to deliver course content electronically.
Falk is proud of the way faculty and staff at Northeast have come together to rise to the challenge of this situation. “In so many ways, we were ahead of the technology game,” Falk says. “Many schools have no tools to allow face to face meetings with their students. If not for a president like Dr. Campbell that supports the use of new technology, we would not be where we are today.”Dr. Campbell is especially proud of the Technology Department at Northeast, saying, “We (NACC) have the best support system. Working from home may not be ideal, we are making it work as a team.”