With the spread of COVID-19 leading to college campus closures around the country, Morgan State University classes are meeting remotely for the rest of the spring semester. For students and faculty, that’s meant courses that started in-person are now being completed via online tools, bringing new dynamics to the higher education setting.
As of April 9, there were no confirmed cases of coronavirus on the university’s Northeast Baltimore campus, but there were thousands of confirmed cases across Maryland. Following Gov. Larry Hogan’s directive to telework and stay at home to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, Morgan State closed the campus in late March, though the university remained open and introduced a number of new social distancing measures.
“Approximately four university buildings remain open to a limited number of faculty and administrative staff,” said Dr. Kevin Banks, VP of student affairs. “Other buildings can only be accessed with permission from area [vice presidents]. All faculty and staff must undergo a health screening as they enter any building before being granted access. The screening is administered by MSUPD or Allied Security Officers.”
This, of course, brought changes to learning. The university canceled all face-to-face instruction and transitioned to an online instruction format for the remainder of the semester on March 17 to ensure the safety of students, staff and others.
Once spring break ended on March 23, that meant technology tools became central to courses. Technical.ly reached out to professors in the Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication about their transition from face-to-face instruction to remote learning.
To continue lectures and assignments, the shift is bringing a mix of digital tools into the fold.
“We are primarily using CANVAS, which is Morgan’s learning management system; this is where the syllabus, the announcements, and the weekly modules are housed,” said Dr. David Marshall, professor and chair of the university’s Department of Strategic Communication.
Marshall’s online classes are also using tools such as YouTube, Google Hangouts, Zoom, Google Drive, Doodle and social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram.
Even before the software comes into play, access is also an issue, as professors said not all students have the same access to devices or Wi-Fi.
As was the case for many people across the country, the shift came in a short period of time. The university had to transition from in-person classes to a new mode in the middle of the semester. To help put technology into practice, the university has offered training through the Center for Teaching and Learning, Banks said.
But with the need to get this new mode up and running quickly, it’s not all been smooth. Associate professor Wayne Dawkins, who teaches media literacy, described “anxious moments”: For one week-ending quiz, he said there were issues displaying the questions. He promised to review the complaints and make adjustments, if necessary.
Darlyn Dyson, a student who is taking English and psychology courses this semester, told Technical.ly that she had one professor who did not know how to use CANVAS.
Dyson also gave advice for students taking online classes for the first time: “Get a planner and write down course due dates” to stay on top of them, she said. Another: “Don’t be afraid to address issues with the course directly to your professor.”
Even before the software comes into play, access is also an issue, as professors said not all students have the same access to devices or Wi-Fi. Banks said the university provided Chromebooks and iPads to students who did not have access to mobile devices.
“The devices have been distributed from the library by appointment and mailed to those who are out of the area,” he said.
And during a global pandemic, professors said, students are worried as a health crisis spreads. One student described forgetting assignments.
“They are worried about their families and safety,” said professor Edward G. Robinson, who teaches courses on reporting and writing. And given the economic slowdown that is happening alongside the pandemic, “they have expressed worry about their immediate futures with internships and jobs,” he said.
For students, it has also meant navigating life away from campus.
“I miss real-life interactions with my classmates and professors. I often share what I am going through with my professors, and they provide me with insightful solutions to my problems,” said Justus Hawkins, a strategic communications major.
Hawkins offered this advice to students taking classes online for the first time: “Stay on top of your classes, check into whatever learning program your school offers and email your professors about any questions immediately.”
With the pandemic continuing, the university is also looking ahead to future sessions. Given the uncertainty, administrators are planning for both continued remote learning, and a return to face-to-face classes. As with many institutions, they’ll follow the guidance of public health officials, and looked to be prepared.
“I know we will be ready for fall 2020 and beyond,” Banks said.
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