Clarion University: Adapting to Distance Learning; Student Resources

| March 26, 2020

CLARION, Pa. – When social distancing became a necessity in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Clarion University students quickly became distance learners.

To make the transition as seamless as possible for students, Clarion University faculty – 60 percent of whom were already trained in online instruction – staff, and the information technology department worked together.

“Faculty and staff have spent the last week helping students to adjust. They’ve done so many things, I can’t list them all,” said Clarion University Provost Pam Gent, Ph.D.

“They’ve had online and Zoom discussions with students to address concerns or fears about this new learning environment. They shared tips with students on how to learn in a new environment.”

Faculty also became students as they learned techniques of online instruction, often utilizing the university’s D2L online platform, as well as other tools for teaching such as Zoom for live lectures, videos and email.

“Faculty are using a variety of platforms, because the digital divide exists in rural parts of Pennsylvania,” Gent explained. “Some of our students do not have reliable internet or cell service.”

Lending support to faculty and students is commonplace for Clarion University Libraries.

“The Clarion University Libraries have a long history and a depth of experience supporting online classes. Our librarians provide research consultation services via Skype, Zoom, chat, text, email, and toll-free phone services throughout the day, evenings and weekends,” said Clarion University Dean of Libraries Terry Latour, Ph.D.

“Our library faculty provide information literacy and discipline-specific instruction via Zoom software, and tutorials developed for specific classes and needs. LibGuides, online research resource guides, have been developed for many classes, disciplines and subjects.”

The library staff also have scanned many information resources not originally in electronic form and provided it to faculty to give to their students through D2L. Additionally, the libraries loaned laptops and iPads to students for the remainder of the semester.

Students and faculty can still depend on the library for research no matter where they are.

“Our information resources include more than 370,000 e-book titles, 55,000 scholarly journals, and 68,000 streaming video titles,” Latour said. “What we don’t have in our collections, we collaborate with other academic libraries to provide access to most any information resource.”

Latour said students and faculty have adjusted to distance education, as expected.

“Clarion students are resilient and adaptable, as are Clarion University faculty and staff. We work individually with students to identify and satisfy their needs,” Latour said. “The faculty and staff of the libraries stepped forward without hesitation to do all they could to support students during these stressful times.”

The Center for Access and Student Achievement has stepped in to make certain students don’t fall through the cracks during the transition to remote learning. In fact, students have access to the same services they have come to rely upon, but retooled for remote learning.

For example, CASA has created tips for students, including how to learn online, time management in unstructured settings, study tips for online learning, etc., Gent said.

“In order to assist students with the transition to the virtual world of learning, we have created a D2L Site: CASA Online Support,” said Ron Radaker, director of CASA. “This site was implemented to help students stay connected and have a point of contact for them in this transition. We wanted to mimic what the physical brick and mortar Center for Access, Success, and Achievement provides for the students.”

So far, a few students have requested tutoring in mathematics, but Radaker said the main reason students have reached out is to voice their concerns over the transition.

“The biggest concern is lack of good internet service providers in some areas where our students reside,” Radaker said. “The other concern that I am sensing from the conversations is the fact that our students are home with their families, which may contain younger siblings or children, and trying to manage all of that on top of studying.”

Radaker said CASA staff members are using Zoom and video chat for tutoring, and we’re leading the State System in another key area.

“At this point, I think we are the only school that created a D2L site to mimic our center,” Radaker said. “Things will evolve each day, and we will keep adding new supports as we see the need. The key is to engage with our students to support them where they are at right now.”

Another resource, the Center for First-Year Experience, is making certain freshmen are getting the assistance they need during this transition.

“The success coaches have reached out to all the first-year students and offered them the same services via zoom, email and phone,” said Richard Lane, Ph.D., director for Center for First-Year Experience. “They have talked to many students about transitioning and tried to calm fears, as well as worked with students to prepare for registration.”

Lane said the Center for First-Year Experience also is here to answer parents’ questions. Parents can check the center’s web page and look forward to its regular newsletter.

Gent said it’s not surprising the way everyone has pulled together.

“I’ve never been prouder of our faculty and staff,” Gent said. “Faculty and staff modeled for our students how unexpected events require teamwork, flexibility, resilience, tolerance of ambiguity, creative thinking, and problem solving — and that’s a lesson our students can take with them no matter where life takes them.”

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