UMass Amherst embarked this week on a complete transition to remote learning for the balance of the spring semester, as faculty and staff quickly adapted the curriculum and organized a dedicated suite of resources for online learning in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, campus operations are drastically reduced. University policy that “only onsite personnel should report to campus, unless contacted by a supervisor” is in accordance with Governor Charlie’s Baker order on March 23rd regarding COVID-19 essential services in the Commonwealth. Residence Life is supporting a small population of less than 600 students who remain on campus.
Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, in a video address recorded from his home office, said, “In just a week’s time, our faculty have transformed their classes for remote delivery. Our staff have worked tirelessly to ensure the continuity of essential campus operations. Our students have displayed a determination and ability to adapt that reminds us all why they are UMass Amherst students in the first place. And even as that immense collective effort was underway, we have come together to make contributions to the broader community response to the COVID-19 crisis.”
Day 1: More than 43,000 Zoom Participants
The remote learning initiative includes step-by-step guidance for faculty on how to conduct online classes as well as dedicated tech support for both faculty and students. These can found at Disruption Resilience: Teaching, Communication & Collaboration Tools for Students, Faculty & Staff. Technologies including learning management systems, Echo360 lecture capture and Zoom are being employed. On March 23, 2020, the first day of full-time remote learning, 43,171 individuals participated in UMass Amherst Zoom sessions. Capabilities included audio only, video/audio, screen sharing and session recording. Students will complete these courses for full credit, as they would any other, and for seniors they will stay on track to complete their studies and graduate this semester. In addition, to alleviate stresses caused by the rapid transition to remote learning, the university announced expansion of pass/fail course options for the spring semester.
Examples of the community’s creating are already beginning to emerge.
Ginny Chandler, a nursing professor, is transforming one of her classes that has students in the field to be more tied in to current events. She’s using a Wiki tool and Blackboard to do empathetic check-ins with her students to build community and make sure her students aren’t getting compassion fatigue during an exhausting time for them.
Torrey Trust, an associate professor of learning technology in the College of Education, has shared her expertise and slide deck about teaching remotely in times of need with educators around the country who were suddenly thrust into teaching online. Her slide deck can be found on her website at www.torreytrust.com under Projects.
In addition to transitioning to remote learning, the community has embarked on developing a variety of virtual events. Even an Edible Book Festival has moved online.
The chancellor, in his video address, observed, “Over a year ago, when we launched our campus strategic plan with a call to ‘Be Revolutionary,’ I couldn’t have imagined the extent by which we would be tested today. To ‘be revolutionary’ is grounded in our campus’s longstanding ethos of innovation, creativity, and commitment to social justice. We are pioneers, builders and unconventional doers – committed to the relentless pursuit of progress. Given the extraordinary challenge we now face, we find ourselves drawing upon these distinctive strengths more than ever.”
He noted, “These are certainly trying times, and our resiliency will be further tested. But I am heartened by the revolutionary spirit that defines this great university and I am confident its students, faculty, staff, and alumni—will see us through, and we will be stronger for it.”