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Yavapai College leads locally

Teaches online in response to pandemic

On Thursday March 12 – in the middle of Spring Break – Yavapai College President Dr. Lisa Rhine found herself on a conference call at a California airport, listening to a disaster scenario as it rapidly became real.

The College, the state and the entire country were locking down in response to the spread of the coronavirus.

"I realized right away, despite having incomplete information about this virus, that my team and I would need to make decisions quickly to ensure the safety of our students and employees," she said.

Faced with a health crisis unseen in more than a century, Rhine and her Executive Leadership Team had a host of thorny logistical questions that added up to one basic one:

How can a college serve its community when the community can no longer gather? Yavapai College developed an answer – in fact, multiple answers – by thinking creatively and working together.

Students, Safety, Education

Students were Priority One. 7,400 of them were enrolled in spring classes. 1,470 planned to graduate in a matter of weeks. Checking the momentum of so many academic careers was unthinkable. Fortunately, the College had a couple of advantages.

"At the February 24 Executive Leadership Team meeting – weeks before the pandemic was announced – we had activated our Emergency Response Committee in anticipation that the virus would hit our region," Rhine said.

As COVID-19 hotspots flared in Italy, Iran, New York City and Washington State, committee members like Office of Instructional Support Dean Stacey Hilton explored local scenarios. "We discussed ‘what if we have to move everything online?'" She said. "We gave IT and [Teaching and e-Learning Support Manager] Thatcher Bohrman a heads-up: ‘If [COVID-19] does escalate, how can we offer our services?'" It did escalate. On Friday, March 13, YC officially announced it was suspending classes until the following Monday. "We planned to use the week after Break to determine how we would transition to a mix of online and face-to-face courses," Rhine said. But in the ELT's daily Zoom meetings, "we very quickly realized an in-person shut-down was necessary." On March 18, Executive Leadership decided YC was going to become an online institution "to ensure the safety of everyone."

Rapid Migration

With that decision, Yavapai College – an institution with a 70/30 traditional/online class ratio before Spring Break – had to go fully online immediately.

"We got a lot of emails that week," Thatcher Bohrman chuckled. "We were popular people."

Seven hundred course sections had to transition to an online environment. It's a profound culture change that many schools dread, and most migrate to over a course of years. Yavapai College had a little more than a week.

"That was surreal," Health & Wellness Instructor Elizabeth Franco laughed. "We're halfway done with the semester, going off on Spring Break … then ‘Boom!'"

A fairly progressive culture helped the transition. Canvas, YC's online learning management system, served as a starting point. "We'd been using Canvas since 2015," Bohrman said. "Ninety-five percent of our faculty already had some Canvas component." Since each class was required to have basic material, like a syllabus, already in Canvas, putting other written coursework online was not a quantum leap.

"I became very good at Canvas, and very good at Zoom," said Franco, a registered nurse and faculty member since 2017, "I taught two Fundamentals of Health Care classes online. But also, an Introduction to Medical Assistant class and two Phlebotomy classes in person, at the Verde Campus." The Medical Assistant class, she said, transferred easily. "The Phlebotomy class posed a challenge. No one wants their blood drawn from someone who hasn't physically done it."

Learning how to convert courses, while maintaining their integrity, was done caseby- case. "Our first thought was Zoom, which has a good modality for face-to-face classes," Bohrman said. Zoom can bring faces together.

But for classes with more dynamic elements, instructors got creative. "In ceramics, for instance, they're inviting students to take clay home. Painting classes can continue via Zoom. Science classes are a challenge. Some have lab kits students can take home."

Some, like Franco's phlebotomy classes, use all of it and improvise: "Fortunately, we had already done a lot of blood draws before the break," she explained. "We continued the lectures on Zoom. Then, we will meet in a socially-distanced lab environment for three or four days in June, to complete the rest."

Like many, Franco cites Bohrman and the TeLS team for providing assistance and tutorials for teachers embracing the New Normal. "I'm also really proud of our faculty," Hilton said. "They've been mentoring one another on best practices for online teaching. It has been really wonderful."

"It's not perfect," Bohrman said. "But we're all saying, ‘What's the best way to continue on?' They're discovering a new kind of creativity in teaching. So a lot of good is coming out of this."

A Look Ahead

At this writing, Yavapai College is ready for several possible futures. "We have a tentative plan for Fall Semester," Rhine said. Online offerings will continue, with some face-to-face activity using social distancing protocols. "In July, we will revisit this decision to see if new information allows us to open more face-to-face options, or requires to head in the opposite direction."

Rhine is confident in the College's ability to adapt to the next few months. She is not alone. If the last few months are any guide, YC's faculty, staff and administrators have shown themselves flexible and capable of responding to the next few months.

"Everyone at the College stepped up," Rhine said. "They recognized they had a larger role to play."