E-learning in the Time of a Pandemic

Alex Holland, Network Administrator, North Central Texas College

Alex Holland, Network Administrator, North Central Texas College

In February 2020, North Central Texas College eLearning and our Information Technology (IT) team introduced a plan to integrate WebEx video conferencing software (similar to Zoom) into our Learning Management System, Canvas.

Canvas is our primary space for online instruction. Pre-pandemic, many instructors that taught face-to-face were only using the platform as centralized storage for course materials such as recorded lectures and files. The features of WebEx allowed us a chance to elevate our digital capability and provide a pathway for communication between students and faculty. We were excited about this initiative and the potential it could offer our institution.

Before the project could kick-off, the novel coronavirus created a historic shift in technology and education across the country over the next three weeks. NCTC’s administration and eLearning department responded by transitioning all Spring 2020 classes to an online format. Immediately we saw a significant leap in video conference usage across the board. NCTC went from 47 WebEx meetings in February to 332 in March and recorded over 1,058 sessions in April. The college also used additional supplemental tools such as Zoom, YouTube, and social media to connect with students and finish the semester.

The eLearning and IT departments worked continually with instructors to facilitate this change, and the spring semester was completed successfully.

Once the spring semester was over, the summer semesters were also moved entirely online, and new work was started to help students and staff begin planning their next classes.

Canvas is our learning management system that houses all the online portions of a course. Even a traditional face-to-face class can have components in Canvas, such as recorded lectures or homework assignments.

The summer months allowed for additional opportunities to train with WebEx software and develop materials that cater to online learning.

We also integrated faculty virtual office hours. Faculty can set appointment hours in the scheduler, and students can schedule an appointment to discuss the class and other topics. Streamlining communication will help us grow the engagement opportunity between students and staff with better flexibility on time and resources.

Since September 1, 2019, we have had 5983 meetings and over 34,452 participants. We have also had international participants worldwide, including Spain, Mexico, Germany, Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom, and more.

This understanding that technology can assist teaching is a big part of the Technology Adoption strategy. Previously, distance education technology was not always easy to use or understand or took a specific skillset. Working from home has cross-trained the campus concurrent on meeting usage and best practices. Faculty use WebEx software to connect in their departmental meetings and stay connected to the NCTC community through Teams Spaces.

With the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, students craved more interaction with their professors. As a result, technology and software are creating accessibility options that are easier than ever before. Instructors at the college were able to become more accessible than ever with both faculty and students in the safety of their own homes.

Using mobile devices with cameras, we are able to provide flexibility for an instructor to move around the classroom and be heard on a video stream, or show a camera angle that would typically be hard to see at home. As we continue to grow the WebEx integration with Canvas, the opportunities that NCTC will provide with distance education will correlate with the learning approach and student needs of now and the future.

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Alex Holland, Network Administrator, North Central Texas College