The University of Mount Olive is widely known for its online adult and graduate programs. However, as a result of Coronavirus (COVID-19), the University has recently transitioned all of its traditional academic programming to an online format as well. The process has stretched personnel, students, and technology in new and exciting ways.
UMO’s information technology team led by Director Ken Davis has worked tirelessly to ensure the University’s technology systems and equipment were ready for the additional load. Within a 120-hour timespan, the IT team was tasked with configuring numerous laptops; with providing a method for faculty and staff to remotely access the University’s network; and with issuing instructions to staff members for forwarding their campus calls to mobile devices. In addition, Joyce Devonshire, UMO’s Online Coordinator, made sure that servers were load-balanced to compensate for increased demands. She made herself available to students, staff, and faculty to answer questions and help with Moodle, the University’s online learning platform.
“I am so proud of our IT team,” Davis said. “They have a can-do attitude, and they have really gone above and beyond the call of duty to make this transition work.”
One of the keys to their success has been a daily Zoom huddle. “Zoom provides a way for us to remain apprised of developing technology issues, while working remotely from home,” Davis shared.
With the technology securely in place, the next step for UMO’s online transition was ensuring that everyone had the needed resources to get the job done, both from a teaching and from a learning standpoint. The UMO Teaching Excellence Center (TEC) has always been a catalyst for promoting excellence in teaching by providing consultation, resources, and programs to lead and support innovative practices that transform learning experiences. Because of the COVID-19, the TEC has beefed-up their efforts to support faculty in their transition from traditional to online courses. It recently hosted a virtual training event that encompassed teaching strategies for the online environment.
“The sessions were very successful,” said Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Assessment Dr. Kimberly Bryant. “Equally helpful has been a faculty reading circle study.”
According to Bryant, the faculty reading circle has helped faculty unpack strategies that are intentionally designed for an online learning environment, including building community and motivating online students.
“We started this study early in the spring semester,” Bryant shared. “However, the content could not have come at a more opportune time, because our faculty already have an existing learning community that they can utilize.”
The TEC has used other techniques such as the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to assist faculty in their online instruction. The UDL is a three- part instructional series co-hosted by the Office of Student Accessibility and the TEC that has allowed faculty to effectively and creatively design and teach courses that make learning accessible to a wider range of learners.
“We have a growing repository of strategies and resources to encourage best practices for faculty to ‘keep teaching’ during this transitional time,” Bryant shared. “Every service offered by the TEC is meant to connect students to a transformational educational experience.”
As expected, online classes mean online research. UMO’s Moye Library staff has been assisting students in this area for years. However, they have recently seen an influx of requests. According to Library Director Pam Wood, the library staff has met the heightened demand on their services with smiles and sensible solutions. With students taking classes from the safety of their homes, the Moye staff is responding to their reference questions and research needs through online chatrooms, virtual Zoom sessions, and online webinars.
“There are a wealth of resources on our website,” Wood added. “Our staff remains committed to ensuring that our students and faculty are well served with the tools and information they need to be successful in their classes.”
Although COVID-19 has changed the way in which students and faculty interact, teach, and learn, there is one constant, and that is the University’s focus on student success.
“Our students remain our top priority,” said Interim President Dr. Edward Croom. “We are committed to ensuring that they reach their academic goals. There is a lot going on ‘behind the screens’ to make everything run as smooth as possible, and I continue to be amazed at the tenacity and flexibility of our entire University during these unusual circumstances. Our students have been understanding and patient. Our faculty have been receptive and responsive. And, our staff have been accommodating and encouraging. Amidst all of the uncertainty and continual developments with COVID-19, the response of our UMO family makes me proud to be a Trojan.”