If anything can be said about higher education in the historic Spring 2020, it is that colleges and universities stood up to the challenge posed by the COVID pandemic including Central Valley institutions responding with urgency, care and foresight.
Not only were they able to pivot to a virtual platform for instruction within a matter of days to complete the semester, but they geared up by providing students with the necessary technology, Wi-Fi hot spots and, in some cases, even met students’ basic needs. Even still, behind the scenes Central Valley leaders were looking ahead to prepare for a fall semester that would very likely continue with remote delivery of instruction.
[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”Dr. Chad Houck” link=”” color=”#33ACFF” class=”” size=”16″]“Some of the ideas were big concepts and others were small details, all of which the participants were excited to share with the class … It has been one of the best online professional development experiences.”[/perfectpullquote]
In that spirit, the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium (CVHEC) provided support this summer by cultivating two opportunities to help faculty build online teaching capacity: The Focused Online Collaborative Interactions (FOCI) series and the Summer Teaching Academy for Teachers of Statistics (STATS) 2020.
FOCI — Professional Learning Series for Faculty
In collaboration with the Charles A. Dana Center, University of Texas at Austin, CVHEC offered a no-cost six-part FOCI professional learning series to a cohort of 25 multi-disciplined faculty May 8 to Aug. 4. This series provided guidance on using evidence-based methods to support each student’s needs while maintaining consistency in the class. A by-product of this initiative was the creation of a support group of peers that can be networked to discuss the implementation of the teaching tools.
Dr. Chad Houck, dean of Instruction at Cerro Coso Community College, said the FOCI’s Virtual Teaching and Learning session has been powerful for instructors who are both comfortable with teaching remotely and for those who are brand new to using technology to reach students.
“The power of the FOCI was the interaction with other college instructors throughout the region through the use of topics that are highly relevant to the technology available today, and through breakout sessions that allowed for small group investigation and sharing,” Houck said.
[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”Dr. Benjamin Duran” link=”” color=”#33ACFF” class=”” size=”16″]“That ‘back to school feeling’ may not be the same as in traditional years, but students should know and feel that just as much energy, if not more, went into ensuring their needs will be met.”[/perfectpullquote]
The format of the sessions also modeled strong practices for teaching via Zoom. By the end of the FOCI sessions, every participant was able to share many new ideas and techniques that they implemented in their classes right away with positive outcomes.
“Some of the ideas were big concepts and others were small details, all of which the participants were excited to share with the class,” Houck said. “It has been one of the best online professional development experiences.”
As a result of this successful undertaking, CVHEC will offer more FOCI series during the 2020-2021 academic year. One series will focus on Equity and another on Counseling for Math Pathways. If more teaching instruction is needed another FOCI series on teaching in the online environment will be offered. More information on the upcoming FOCI series will be forthcoming.
STATS 2020 — Strengthening Statistics Teaching
CVHEC’s Mini-Grants campaign supported the Summer Teaching Academy for Teachers of Statistics (STATS) 2020 convening that was presented June 8 to 12 by West Hills College Lemoore in collaboration with CVHEC and the California Community College Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO).
The concept of the week-long STATS 2020 emerged from regional Central Valley educator conversations sharing concerns of inadequate preparation as they are being asked to teach statistics due to implementation of AB705. In the last year, statistics course offerings have increased 150 percent at many campuses (from 20 percent of the math courses offered to 50 percent). STATS 2020 provided instruction to 48 math faculty representing colleges from CVHEC’s 9-county region.
Math faculty joined the conference seeking additional insights for teaching statistics effectively in the online/remote modality presented by Roxy Peck, professor emerita of statistics at California Polytechnic State University where she served as chair of the Statistics Department for six years and as associate dean of the College of Science and Mathematics for 13 years. Her STATS 2020 workshop modeled the process by which to engage students synchronously using organized materials and applets in addition to Zoom technology features such as breakout rooms, polling and whiteboards. Many participants had previously attended workshops featuring Peck’s work and they looked forward to learning from her how to transfer engaging face-to-face activities into the online world.
“I entered the STATS 2020 conference wondering how fall was going to be much different from the transitional spring semester so many of us struggled through,” said Tina Akers-Porter, a 10-year math instructor at Modesto Junior College.
“But I left the conference armed with new websites, modeled experience using synchronous online teaching tools, fun content driven activities that translated to the virtual realm and lots of confidence about the new teaching possibilities for the fall,” she said. “I am very grateful for the STATS 2020 conference, as it helped fill in the virtual gaps for me.”
Other Online Learning Activities
Beside these two examples of CVHEC efforts to assist Central Valley colleges, many other teacher-learning opportunities have sprung up from systems offices and on individual campuses throughout the valley, such as Porterville College’s “Quick Tips for Online Success” webinar series. This weekly 20-minute presentation for faculty by faculty has gone so well that it will continue through the fall semester. In addition, other CVHEC-member colleges and universities individually have addressed professional learning opportunities for their faculty and staff to deliver high level instruction and student services through their own efforts. The response in the region to the challenges brought on by the pandemic have indeed been impressive.
Summer 2020 Prep
The summer of 2020, which in a normal year would have been a time for rest and renewal, saw a response in earnest by Central Valley higher education leadership and faculty who invested hours in teacher and staff training to ensure they could confidently welcome students back. Instruction was a key summer focus, but so was creating solutions to provide students with as much support as possible. In addition to filling the broadband gaps, campus teams spent the summer on aggressive outreach, contacting students by phone, finding financial aid solutions on compassion grounds and upscaling as much support as possible.
That ‘back to school feeling’ may not be the same as in traditional years, but students should know and feel that just as much energy, if not more, went into ensuring their needs will be met.