Solving challenges together
March 23 was a day VCU students and faculty will likely remember for years to come. It was the day they “returned” from spring break. But instead of making their way back to campus and ducking into classrooms, labs and studios, they logged on to their computers from their couches or beds, the kitchen table or their backyard, many of them fending off interruptions from parents, siblings, kids or pets.
It was a situation none of them could have envisioned at the start of the year. And yet despite the challenges, professors kept teaching and students kept learning. Most professors had to modify their courses, and in some cases the change in format led to unexpected opportunities, whether it was new ways to connect with students, creative class projects, or lessons that incorporated the very thing that was foremost for people around the world — COVID-19.
The ALT Lab, which develops online and technology-enhanced courses, was already engaged in conversations about transforming the university into a digital environment when the announcement came that classes would be taught online for the remainder of the semester. It has been a massive undertaking amid an evolving public health emergency.
Normally the ALT Lab takes an entire semester to build an online course, so what was offered was coined “remote emergency instruction.” The ALT Lab team quickly assembled the available tools to create an online learning environment based on faculty members’ ability, the curriculum and student needs. Email, video chat, recorded video, instant messaging and online bulletin boards are a few of the tools that have been used.
The process faced three critical issues: lack of internet bandwidth for students to stream video; students who live in rural areas and do not have access to the internet; and the infrastructure of the internet being overwhelmed by the increased load. But everyone was determined to make it work.
In just a few short weeks, the lab has worked directly with more than 300 faculty members and over 300 more used online resources that the ALT Lab has made available.