As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shape the ability of people to gather in a single physical space, colleges and universities have modified methods of instruction.
Last week, Illinois Central College completed conversion of its fall schedule with the inclusion of four class formats, including two online options, an online/on-campus hybrid, and off-campus clinical training and internships.
According to ICC president Sheila Quirk-Bailey, the college worked hard to develop a plan that gives students options to meet their learning styles while keeping them safe.
“For example, our online anytime option would be wonderful for students who, maybe a don’t have a job right now, or they’re working part time and looking for full-time work,” said Quirk-Bailey. “So that online time allows them to complete their coursework on their schedule and be flexible to handle issues in the rest of their lives.
“On the other hand, we’re also offering online schedules. Students would meet with the professor and their classmates on a regular schedule through a Zoom classroom. That’s where students who need a little more structure, can have interaction with other people and they can have those live discussions.”
The hybrid option features online lectures combined with on-campus lab sessions for hands-on training. Quirk-Bailey pointed to diesel engine, HVAC training and art studio courses as examples of hybrid classes– with health precautions in mind.
“We have worked to social distance and put up protective Plexiglas in between students where we needed to do that,” she said. “Those students will be wearing masks so we can keep them safe, but let them continue in their degree progression during this time of COVID.”
Quirk-Bailey said the college’s partners for clinical sites and corporate apprenticeships are “all-in” to allow students to continue those studies. She noted that despite the pandemic, students should still take the opportunity to prepare for the rest of their lives.
“One of the things that’s important for students to know is that this is not a time to stop investing in yourself,” she said. “The job market may be slow to recover. Traditionally, this is a good time for people to reflect and think about what happens next. We really encourage our students ‘don’t use this time of COVID to put your life back a year and to not continue to learn and grow.’
“This is all unprecedented; we don’t know what impact this is to have. So making sure you have a plan to move forward with your skill sets in your life is critical right now.”
Quirk-Bailey said the college has taken numerous steps to assure adherence to Gov. JB Pritzker’s Reopen Illinois plan and safeguard the health and safety of students, faculty and staff. Among them are using separate entrance and exit doors, and minimizing the number of students who pass each other in hallways.
“We walked through every program in any facility that would have students face-to-face and mapped out the entire process, so we can make sure that all of the requirements of Stage 4 are met,” she said.
In the event of a broader outbreak or potential shutdown, Quirk-Bailey said online courses would continue. The current plan also calls for courses requiring in-person interaction to be completed by Thanksgiving.
She said one of the challenges to shifting to more online education is getting people to accept change.
“I think there were students who previously said online wasn’t for me. I think that there are faculty who may have said previously that online isn’t for me,” she said. “I think we’re all growing and learning together.
“When students don’t complete a degree, it’s usually not an academic issue; it’s usually that life gets in the way. These formats bring quite a bit of flexibility to our students, so they can manage life challenges and still continue to grow and progress and earn the credentials they need to earn family-sustaining wages.”
Online instruction previously accounted for about 10% of ICC’s schedule each semester and Quirk-Bailey admitted more online learning may become a trend.
“We’ve never been here before, so I don’t know what the future holds," she said. "I would really be surprised if that number is double more than double. We may find going forward that we have 40% or 50% of our students, especially those part time students, who prefer to have the flexibility that virtual education provides.”
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