HSU’s Classes Will Resume Virtually

Gate to Humboldt State University

Gate to Humboldt State University [image from calstate.edu]

This is a press release from Humboldt State University:

HSU Re-Opens with Virtual Instruction

Humboldt State University is welcoming back thousands of students today, March 26, and they are all utilizing virtual instruction and support services.

In addition to health and safety, the University has prioritized efforts to help students continue making progress toward their degrees. Faculty and staff took advantage of the Spring Break period and an additional three days of preparation this week to prepare.

Converting to a virtual operation has been a massive undertaking. It was especially challenging given that most employees have been working remotely for the first time, even as they have been dealing with personal challenges related to shelter in place, school closures, and more. HSU President Tom Jackson sent video messages earlier today thanking faculty and staff for their many efforts, and welcoming students back to the semester.

To students, President Jackson said, “So much has happened since you left for Spring Break, but what pleases me most is watching you and seeing your willingness to commit to the changes … and to follow through with earning your degree.” He shared his own worries for his children and others, and added, “As your President I wake up every day with this enormous amount of optimism and wonderment, knowing that there are so many good things in front of us as we work through some of the challenges.”

Humboldt State University has acted quickly and aggressively in its response to COVID-19, opening up its Emergency Operations Center on Feb. 26 and activating its Pandemic Planning Committee.

HSU has since converted to virtual operations in a matter of weeks. During that time, it has responded to the fast-changing situation with significant changes to protect the health and safety of the campus community as well as the broader community. New ways of teaching, advising, and supporting students have been put in place. New business practices have been developed. And hundreds of specific situations and individual needs have been accommodated.

The University continues to actively monitor the situation and to make changes as necessary, working closely with local partners and following guidelines from the CDC, State of California, and Humboldt County health agencies. HSU also continues to remind the campus and community to stay informed, and not to make assumptions based on identity, health condition, or rumors.

Many of the University’s recent actions are highlighted below, though it is far from complete and in no way fully captures the hundreds of ways that HSU faculty and staff have gone above-and-beyond. Individual acts of caring and compassion have been both inspirational and vitally important.

Health and Wellness

  • Close coordination with Humboldt County Public Health and health providers on appropriate responses, as well as assisting with response to students who may be exposed or sick. Student Health and Wellbeing Services remains open, and has set up a receiving space out front.
  • Counseling and Psychological Services is open and providing services.
  • Allocated additional resources, including funds from donors, to ensure that Oh SNAP! Food pantry services can continue and purchase additional food if necessary.
  • Additional cleaning and custodial efforts, particularly in high-traffic areas.
  • Procurement of hard-to-get resources through state vendors and contacts, allowing the University to obtain necessary PPE and sanitizing resources.

Academics

  • University-wide transition to virtual learning, enabled by intensive three-day preparation period of online workshops and peer mentoring by faculty with strong experience with the technologies.
  • University-wide transition to virtual student support in critical areas, including tutoring, supplemental instruction, service learning, peer mentoring, advising, and more
  • Development of online resources to facilitate teaching and learning – available at Keep Learning and Keep Teaching websites.
  • Build-up and expansion of key information technology resources to enable virtual teaching, learning, and support. Development of an online resource for technology tools and tips.
  • Hundreds of laptops checked out and mailed to students. Hundreds of students assisted with Internet access at home, expansion of data plans, and similar so that they can access virtual learning and support. This effort was supported with funds from donors.
  • Identification of labs and similar spaces on campus that can be used for virtual learning and support, including establishing social distancing practices in the spaces.
  • Developing options for virtual recognition of this year’s graduates.

Employment

  • Identified essential personnel, critical functions, and critical spaces on campus that need to remain open. Transitioned most employees to working remotely.
  • Ensured that those 65 or older, or with health risks, do not come to campus and can telecommute if possible.
  • Developed numerous approaches so that employees, including student-employees, can continue to be paid.
  • Moved many processes related to employment online, with many others still being refined.
  • Worked closely with faculty and staff to ensure they have the equipment needed to telecommute.

Housing and Other Facilities

  • Closed all campus facilities to the general public. Cancelled all activities and events as the situation evolved.
  • Limited campus facilities are open only to students, faculty, and staff as necessary. Gradually closing most facilities, with the exception of those deemed critical to essential operations as well as outdoor shared space where social distancing can be observed.
  • Developed tiered plans for isolation and quarantine if there is a COVID-19 case involving an employee or a student. Additional plans are in place in case a student who lives on campus gets sick.
  • Provided free bus service to the Los Angeles and San Francisco area for students who wished to return there for the remainder of the semester.
  • Offered partial housing refunds for students who live on campus and chose to leave the area for the remainder of the semester.
  • Adapted on-campus dining to reduce the possible spread while continuing to feed students.
  • Implemented additional cleaning and custodial efforts, particularly in high-traffic areas.
  • Addressed needs of students who live off campus and who may need additional assistance.

Travel

  • Suspended all University travel outside Humboldt County.
  • Worked closely with students and faculty who were travelling abroad. Ensured they understood protocol for returning home or for sheltering in place at their current location.
  • Provided support and advice for students returning from Spring Break, including guidelines on shelter in place, quarantine, social distancing, etc.
  • Travel and competition have been suspended for all intercollegiate and club athletic teams.

Other

  • Encouraged students to return to out-of-area homes for the remainder of the semester if possible.
  • Developed plans to issue a variety of refunds for students – commencement, parking, housing, dining, parking.
  • Implemented oversight of emergency purchasing across campus to document for federal, state and local entities.
  • Provided ongoing updates to the campus community about important changes. Developed a website with resources and all updates, including an option for non-English translations. Continue to monitor and correct false information.
  • Repeated important public education messages, including social distancing and combating stigma.
  • Supported public education for the broader community through public service announcements on numerous radio stations.
  • Worked closely with partner agencies to ensure HSU has up-to-date information on new guidelines and orders from the federal government, the state, and Humboldt County. Developed extensive new guidelines based on this guidance.
  • Regularly held discussions with leadership at College of the Redwoods, Humboldt County Office of Education, and many school districts.
  • Stayed in close contact with CSU leadership at various levels, and quickly updated campus guidelines to match new CSU guidance.
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3 comments

  • The Hermit of Grizzly Mountain

    Online Teaching and Learning can be very effective, but IMO, there is danger in conflating the virtual classroom experience with that of traditional co-located classrooms.

    What tends to get lost in the mix is the interpersonal, human element. Videoconferencing can go a long way towards fostering a sense of community, along with the normal interpersonal cues, etc. but still has its limitations. Further, many courses when converted fail to include much, if any, live video conferencing, resulting in an impersonal experience for the learner.

    One looming pitfall from the institution’s perspective is the data showing that online schools suffer much higher attrition (dropout) rates than do traditional physical campuses. Fostering cohesion among classmates and with the greater campus community can help mitigate this.

    My suggestions to educators who are converting their courses to online for the first time:

    1) Provide clear instructions at the start of the course informing students how to get started and where to find various course components, campus resources, course and institutional policies, minimum technology requirements, expected digital information literacy skills, etc…

    2) Encourage educators to make efforts to foster a sense of community around the “digital campfire”, so to speak. Instructor and learner introductions as well as social warm-up exercises (such as are commonly practiced by improvisational acting troupes) can help students acclimate to the virtual experience. (I can provide example exercises upon request).

    3) Provide additional technical support resources to students who may feel confused, and/or shy to ask for help and support within the virtual classroom setting.

    4) Establish clearly stated expectations (aka “netiquette”) for online discussions, email, and other forms of interaction

    5) Provide additional counseling service opportunities to students who may feel alone and disconnected from their peers and the campus community.

    6) Provide 24/7 Virtual Meeting Rooms (such as are available with the popular Zoom videoconferencing service) where classmates and cohorts can meet among themselves outside of the classroom setting.

    7) To the extent possible, try to keep student groups together as they matriculate through courses within a program. These cohorts will naturally form support systems to help each individual student’s progress through to graduation.

    The press release and linked resources, above, demonstrate that HSU is already implementing most of my suggestions. However, the importance of fostering community cannot be overstated for its impact on student success and graduation rates, and should be continuously considered throughout the development and deployment process.

  • The Hermit of Grizzly Mountain

    I’ll mention one other common source of frustration for students engaged in Online Learning is a result of the fragmentation of methods commonly used to communicate online.

    Whenever possible, Keep It Simple & Straightforward (K.I.S.S.)!

    Wherever possible, stay within the Learning Management System (HSU uses the Canvas LMS). Minimize split communications across multiple tools (such as web forums, email, text messages and/or other services (wikis, Slack, Google Docs, Dropbox). Ideally, all EdTech tools (e.g. Zoom, YouTube, VoiceThread, Cerego, SmartSparrow) will be integrated within the Canvas LMS, so students aren’t burdened with myriad links and confusion regarding where to look for necessary information, etc.

  • The Hermit of Grizzly Mountain

    Sorry about all my rambling rants. Kym, please feel free to delete the above comments (and this one too.)

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