Transforming an entire college’s courses to online in two weeks isn’t the easiest of feats.
Like other higher education institutions in the state, the University of North Georgia has quickly shifted gears and entered the virtual world.
“The last two weeks has been an effort of everyone working together to get classes created online,” said Chaudron Gille, UNG’s provost and senior vice president of academic affairs. “I am very proud of the faculty and staff of the university and how hard they’re working as we adapt.”
Eugene Van Sickle, the university’s assistant vice president of student success initiatives, said UNG recently sent out a survey to better understand the challenges ahead with virtual learning.
He said the data showed that around 42% of the institution’s students have never taken an online class.
“That’s surprising,” Van Sickle said. “It’s not that students can’t and won’t be successful, they’re just not familiar with the system we’re using to deliver instruction. There’s a learning curve.”
He said many professors and instructors also had little to no experience with virtual learning before it was implemented at the university on March 30.
To assist faculty with the transition, he said UNG’s distance education and technology integration team offered guides to quickly move into online instruction.
One of Van Sickle’s roles over the past week has involved figuring out which students need additional support.
Van Sickle said he has found that many students either don’t have devices at home to complete their coursework, or share one computer among their housemates or family members.
To assist those students, the university’s information technology systems staff has started loaning devices. Unfortunately, Van Sickle said the number of computers is limited.
“The ability to get more computers is a problem,” he said. “The supply chains are tight.”
To address this issue, Gille said UNG is working to allot times for students to use equipment on campus while keeping distance from others.
For those who need help with online courses, she said the university offers online tutoring services over the phone and through video conferencing.
“We put a lot of resources together to give tips for being successful,” Gille said. “We’re also launching a peer mentoring program.”
Because of the pandemic, Van Sickle said many students have found themselves unemployed. He said that the university is in the process of implementing a program that will offer work to them.
“The thing that I really want students to know is that we are in this with them, and it’s important to stay in contact with the faculty and staff at the institutions,” Van Sickle said. “We’re going to do everything we can to help them finish the semester successfully.”
At this point, Van Sickle said the University System of Georgia hasn’t made any decisions about transitioning into online learning for summer courses.
“Summer sessions begin in May, which adds another level of uncertainty for our students,” he said. “What does this mean for summer? We don’t know.”
Gille said the biggest advice she’s offering to students during this time includes checking their school emails regularly and remembering to log into their e-learning accounts.
“I would encourage students to be patient with this shift and give themselves a chance to adapt this week,” Gille said. “We’re all in this together.”
Students who are having difficulties with the new online format can contact one of UNG’s online student success advisers — Merci Rivera at Merci.Rivera@ung.edu and Cayse Wilson at Cayse.Wilson@ung.edu.