Hanover College has built a reputation for the quality of its face-to-face teaching and its “personal touch” approach to education. The strong relationships between students and instructors have been central to the College’s mission for nearly two centuries.
While the mission remains the same, the approach will be markedly different when winter term classes resume Monday, March 30. The Covid-19 pandemic has made such events around the globe a reality.
“In addition to safeguarding our loved ones and ourselves during this period, we must ensure our students continue receiving an education worthy of them and of Hanover,” said Hanover President Lake Lambert. “The best way to accomplish that goal in the present and for the long-term is to continue moving the College forward as much as possible. All of our institutional priorities, either directly or indirectly, are driven by the focus on our students and their success.”
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, winter term was suspended March 17, giving students the opportunity to return home and begin an extended spring break through March 29. The campus community, meanwhile, launched a 12-day scramble to shift from face-to-face learning to a varied virtual approach.
Hanover’s preparations for the transition to an online education model began March 13, when the decision was made to suspend the winter term and send students home. The lengthened spring break would provide the time to convert more than 100 faculty members, nearly 1,100 students and approximately 300 courses to a virtual model.
The conversion would be steered by a five-person ad hoc group, chaired by Valerie Young, associate professor of communication, associate dean for faculty development and veteran of Hanover’s summer online course offerings. The remote instruction group also includes Steve Jobe, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College, Eric Justice, computer systems administrator, Reiley Noe, instructional technologist, Jan Spry, faculty support staff, and Kevin Stormer, director of information technology.
“I think that the biggest obstacle has been time,” said Noe. “Creating an online course is much more time consuming than planning to teach a face-to-face class. I think that having this extra time has helped everyone comprehend the significance of this situation and move on to find a way to create a meaningful short session using some distance learning technologies.”
In just 12 days, professors would need to identify and connect with appropriate technology for their courses, adapt lectures, materials and assignments to online methods and prepare for any and all obstacles in the coming weeks.
“There is no single or uniform mode for providing effective and efficient instruction,” said Jobe. “Each faculty member will want to adopt measures that are most comfortable. Each course will require different practices and each student may need a varying level and type of engagement.”
Though face-to-face instruction is an essential element at Hanover, technology has always been present on campus and used in a variety of manners. Now, the full range of options are available across the board to pull students into virtual classrooms and laboratories.
Hanover’s faculty members have at their fingertips a variety of means to engage with students, including videoconferencing through Zoom and Microsoft Teams, video and audio lectures, email and even online office hours. Students, meanwhile, can submit assignments, complete tests and quizzes, directly upload papers and projects, and interact in online message boards. All students, regardless of location, have access to Microsoft software such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel through their campus credentials.
As it has been for nearly 50 years, the Duggan Library is a vital partner in this academic effort. The library, through its vast resources, can link instructors and students with information, regardless of their location. From their homes, students can access the library’s databases and find the exact same articles as they would using the databases within the physical library. Students can even chat reference questions to the librarians through a link the library’s home page.
The campus community has united in so many ways during the pandemic. The effort to transition to the virtual environment has been no different.
“It has been inspiring to see everyone pull together and work through a challenge like this,” said Noe. “Many faculty members have been generously sharing their tips and advice to help colleagues and help with the transition. There is a wide range of technological engagement among the faculty, but I think that this has stimulated some interest in trying new tools for teaching.”
Hanover’s initial widespread foray into online education will conclude Friday, May 1, with the scheduled end to the winter term (spring term is cancelled). However, should the pandemic continue or return after an absence in the coming months, the swift implementation of an online approach will have a lasting impact on the delivery of a Hanover education.
“I think that working through this challenge will benefit our institutional DNA,” said Noe. “The past few weeks have helped people build connections with other faculty and staff on campus that they may not know well or work with very often. The experience of working through a difficult situation like this will help us handle similar situations in the future.”