Back to School | College of Business, Economics, and Computing
The Fall 2020 semester is fast approaching and each college at UW-Parkside is preparing for the unique obstacles and challenges presented by the new hybrid format of the upcoming semester. Dirk Baldwin, Dean of the College of Business, Economics, and Computing (CBEC) is excited to face these challenges and help his college and students move forward.
Despite the unprecedented circumstances, CBEC is prepared for the upcoming semester and has a clear plan in place to assist students in successfully transitioning to virtual classes. Baldwin asserts that CBEC has adjusted its class schedule in multiple ways to accommodate students as much as possible. In the case of classes with more than one section, students were given a choice of which format they would prefer.
Baldwin explains, “Face-to-Face class sizes were reduced so that a small number of students could fit into a larger space in order to maintain social distancing and many of our classes were moved online. Some of our online classes are live and take place at a scheduled time, while other live classes are asynchronous. This means that students still access course materials and videos, take part in discussions, turn in homework and projects, and take exams within the boundary of a schedule, but with some flexibility in that schedule.”
CBEC’s existing online undergraduate business degree and online MBA degree programs have given the instructors a great deal of experience with hosting online classes. That experience has also given them an advantage when moving other classes to virtual formats. “This experience, with the help of UW-Parkside’s Instructional Design team, has helped us scale up our online offerings. Many of our classes contain videos that help our students understand the material. Many students also take advantage of our virtual office hours,” Baldwin says.
Advantages of Virtual Learning
Health and safety are the obvious driving forces behind the class format and scheduling changes. However, that does not mean that virtual classes do not already have other advantages over traditional learning. Each student is different and may have their own learning preferences.
Having options that suits the preferences and needs of each student has been a central concern in course planning for CBEC instructors. Baldwin acknowledges that the virtual format may actually be preferred by some students. Students can revisit or replay the course material. The virtual format may help students feel more comfortable with participating in class activities and discussions. “Some students thrive in this format. Students who might be a little more introverted sometimes find they have more time to think of a response and type compared to an in-class discussion that moves at a quicker pace,” Baldwin elaborates. For more reserved students, this format serves as a good opportunity to formulate and subsequently articulate their thoughts at their own pace.
Other students, however, may prefer a more traditional learning environment and may find themselves struggling with an online format. That is where the synchronous format comes in. Baldwin says, “Some students learn better through listening rather than reading. In these cases, a student may be better off with a live online class. This class more closely matches the face-to-face format.”
Advice to Students
While asynchronous classes can provide flexibility for the students, Baldwin cautions students to remain organized, become familiar with other members of the class, and take advantage of the extra time that this class format affords students. Baldwin advises, “My first piece of advice is to new or returning online students is to do what you can to stay organized. Especially with asynchronous classes, it is easy to forget about the class since you do not have a set meeting time each week. Second, get to know your instructor. Attend the virtual office hours, ask questions, and seek help.
He continues, “Third, do what you can to get to know your fellow students. Participate in virtual meetings and take advantage of open discussion forums. Finally, I suggest making sure that you read, watch videos, seek extra information, and then draw from these items as you participate in discussions. These discussions can be an important part of the class. An informed opinion or observation is always stronger than one that appears to come off the top of your head.”
Challenges Facing CBEC
This optimism does not mean that Baldwin and the instructors in CBEC are not aware of the challenges ahead. Labs are one area in particular that presents a unique challenge that the college was able to identify and address. The computer labs tend to have software and capabilities that students may not find on their home computer. Fortunately, CBEC faculty and staff have been able to find alternatives so that students can work on lab assignments at home.
Students are not the only ones that have to face these extraordinary circumstances. Instructors must also adapt their teaching methods to the format of their classes. Getting instructors ready for teaching a class takes time and planning. Many faculty members prepare material for both face-to-face and online class formats. Now they must have a plan to convert everything to a virtual format.
Student involvement with the campus community is another important aspect of the college experience. Because of the pandemic, however, students cannot get that in the traditional sense. “Attending class is one part of the college experience. We still want students to be able to participate on our sales competition teams, join student clubs, and attend employer sessions in a virtual environment,” Baldwin says.
A Unique Learning Experience
The pandemic has served as a learning opportunity for many. Many industries, including higher education, are contending with problems that they have never had to deal with before. Baldwin believes that this baptism by fire will improve students’ problem solving and professional skillsets. Which will in turn make them more competitive when they reach the job market. Baldwin explains, “Students are learning adaptability, resilience, responsibility, and backup planning through this situation. These are great life takeaways. All of these items will serve them well in their business or IT career. It also gives students experience learning in an online environment. Learning does not stop after graduation. Many workshops, training, and continuing education programs are offered online.”
Faculty and staff have also been able to use this situation as a learning experience. Baldwin contends that the pandemic has taught him the value of virtual communication. He elaborates, “From an internal perspective, we learned the value of virtual meetings. We found them to be productive. From a teaching perspective, we learned from each other. The faculty shared ideas on keeping students engaged in a live online course, methods for doing student presentations, and techniques for online projects.”
Message to Students
For first-year students, the current circumstances are even more foreign because not only are they taking most of their classes virtually, but they are doing so in a completely new school with little to no prior experience with colleges. Baldwin’s message to fist-year students is to embrace the changes and be an active member of the campus community. He encourages them saying, “I know this year has not been what you pictured as you perhaps graduated from high school and entered college for the first time. If you are brand new, I encourage you to take part in whatever activities are available. Active students are successful students.”
He also addresses transfer students citing UW-Parkside’s established record of helping transfer students succeed. “I also want to extend a welcome to all the transfer students. UW-Parkside is very successful at working with you and moving you on path to graduation,” Baldwin says. His message to returning students is that he is grateful to them and proud of them for persevering and continuing on their academic journey. “The spring semester was interrupted abruptly. We made it through the semester successfully for many reasons. A major reason is because you persevered, stayed with the class, and helped your fellow students.”
Finding Positives and Looking Forward
According to Baldwin the students have responded very well to the necessary changes. He notes, “Some students have taken an active role in helping other students.” The faculty and staff have also responded admirably to the new class format and virtual classes. He notes most of the faculty members have some experience teaching online and weekly workshops were held in order to discuss the best practices online teaching practices.
As a whole Baldwin is satisfied with the university’s response and is proud of everyone for handling last semester as well as they did given the sudden nature of the closures, cancellations, and changes. “I was very satisfied with how UW-Parkside got through the spring semester and was very student centric.” That effort did not end with the conclusion of the semester. Baldwin, CBEC, and the rest of UW-Parkside are all working tirelessly to develop a roadmap to navigate the upcoming semester.
An important part of progress is looking to the future and confronting the obstacles that arise. Baldwin states, “I am proud of how our faculty helped each other. This went a long way toward helping all our classes be successful in the spring. I’m also proud of our Small Business Development Center (SBDC). The SBDC directed many businesses to the financial help available that needed in order to survive.”