The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped our world, and, as we’ve discussed in a recent blog, its impact on businesses, economies, education and day-to-day human life will be lasting. How will we re-orient the world and our interactions with each other once restrictions are lifted? It’s hard to say, but chances are, little will be the same.
For Lackawanna College, like most colleges, the shift to all online learning was unexpected. We were lucky to have had preexisting infrastructures in place to ease us into online operations. It was because of an amazingly dedicated faculty, a tireless IT department, and mission-focused staff that the transition went as smoothly as possible. Despite the overall success, the situation presented new challenges, raised some important questions, and gave us the chance to creatively invent the best possible solutions.
THE PROBLEM: Some students don’t have access to technology.
Online instruction relies upon fast and reliable access to the internet and, obviously, the use of a personal device. For one reason or another, many of our students struggled to find the resources to complete coursework, as, for example, they live in areas without internet access and/or found themselves sharing devices with multiple family members.
When students went home, some of them did not have WiFi access or a computer. The good news here was that many students had phones, and would be able to access the learning software via an app. The instructors at Lackawanna are working with students to talk about their challenges and work on other ways to help them complete their courses. Potential solutions were creative, as staff members helped students identify hot spot WIFI areas and learned that students would sometimes drive to empty parking lots to complete their work.
The Problem: Students and faculty similarly struggle with remote education.
The sudden transition to virtual learning proved to be a challenge for all of us, but with every new challenge comes an opportunity to learn new tools and strategies. In addition to navigating their new educational environment, students and instructors had to figure out how to balance caring for their own family members – many of whom were also new online learners. Students reported feeling overwhelmed and struggling with time management due to a lack of routine.
The College’s highest priority is to support students through the completion of their Spring semester and provide them with the tools they need. To do this, faculty and staff began reaching out to each and every student by phone to assist them with any concerns or barriers they were experiencing. This personal touch proved to be successful, with students saying how they felt incredibly supported and that they recognized that they were not alone.
The Problem: Students are at risk of not returning to college.
Some students worry about the cost of starting or continuing higher education programs.
Lackawanna College is already one of the most cost-efficient higher education institutions in the region. With more than 95% of Lackawanna College students receiving financial aid, we are sensitive to the challenges students and families face in paying for their studies. With students having to leave campus due to the coronavirus, we refunded eight weeks’ worth of room and board charges for resident students. For graduating seniors in the high school class of 2020, we launched an amazing dual enrollment scholarship opportunity that will benefit nearly 500 students in 50 school districts across Northeastern and Central, Pa.
How can we strengthen our infrastructure, ensuring that students have access to education in times of crisis? What can we do to help students acclimate and thrive while learning remotely? How can we help students of all income levels achieve their college dreams through this difficult time?