Back to School | College of Social Sciences and Professional Studies

Published: September 28, 2020
By: UW-Parkside Marketing & Communications

The College of Social Sciences and Professional Studies (CSSPS) at UW-Parkside is using the learning opportunities presented by the pandemic to modify their programs to maintain their impact while still being mostly virtual. Giovanna Gutierrez, Operations Manager Assistant to the Dean of CSSPS, is excited for the new semester and the chance to refine the college’s capabilities to provide quality education through a number of mediums and with various class formats.

Adapting to Virtual Learning

The entirety of the higher education community is learning to adapt. But CSSPS is striving to not only adapt, but to improve as well. The “Election Experience” program, which is geared toward promoting community engagement and informing voters is an example of the college’s efforts. Gutierrez explains, “The College of Social Science and Professional Studies has certainly adapted to the virtual transition of programming by modifying our events on campus, such as the Election Experience, to be available not just in person for the campus community, but also virtually via livestream. This is something new that has developed as a way to open spaces and dialogue for those who may not be able to attend campus due to COVID.”

During the pandemic, health and safety are among the chief concerns for many institutions UW-Parkside included. Gutierrez states that the unique circumstances have helped push professors to think outside the box and to utilize all the tools the have at their disposal,. Tools that they otherwise might not have needed or considered in a strictly face-to-face learning environment. She says, “Holding classes virtually has really pushed our faculty to explore more tools and platforms that perhaps may have been ignored if it were not for this virtual transition. This virtual method has also challenged them in a positive way on how to make their course work easily accessible, and electronic for all students.”

Message to Students

The online class format, while not completely new, has never been relied upon in the way or scale that it currently is now. For students who are not accustomed to this learning method, it can present some unique challenges. Gutierrez believes that adaptability and persistence are the keys to thriving in this learning format and encourages students to see this change as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. She explains, “It is always great to be adaptable and to give things a try. Students have different methods that they prefer for learning. But we hope that as they are diving into their courses, they see the willingness of our professors to answer their questions, follow up with them, and also encourage dialogue. This new online format can be seen as an opportunity to polish study skills, understand the tips and tricks of virtual platforms, and the flexibility to complete courses from an alternative learning space.”

Returning students must also adapt and overcome these new challenges. Gutierrez says that an important goal for the college is to maintain open and honest lines of communication and to try to use available resources to remain as engaged as they were before. She says, “For returning students, we hope that they are still able to have open communication with professors, and classmates, and know that despite being away from the classroom space, they can still engage via multiple virtual formats. We hope that they can find a sense of digital community and if they do see friends from campus to practice safe social distancing.”

Student and Faculty Response 

Virtual learning can be seen as a positive thing for a wide variety of reasons. However, Gutierrez notes that from speaking to professors, one reason in particular has stood out among the others. She says, “There is a change in classroom dynamics from some students who were not inclined to speak up in the classroom or share with their peers. Students may feel more at ease to speak up while behind their computer screen. I think this may be because students may feel less anxious to share and speak up since they are physically removed from the classroom space. This has been a positive shift in classroom discussions and virtual dialogue.”

Faculty members have also had to adapt their teaching methods to ensure the quality and effectiveness of their curriculum can be maintained while utilizing a virtual classroom. Although this transition to virtual learning is not expected to be permanent, Gutierrez notes that the college does recognize the value and efficacy of professors expanding their own knowledge and skill in presenting their lessons virtually. “There are a number of faculty who are exploring ways to adapt their teachings to virtual formats. And although we are not looking to transition courses to online only, we do appreciate the efforts that faculty are making to create access to content, lectures, readings in a multitude of formats conducive for in person or remote learning,” Gutierrez says.

Finding Positives and Moving Forward

Although Gutierrez and CSSPS are ready to move forward, she and the rest of the faculty and staff in the college have used the time in quarantine to step back, reflect, and take positive actions. One such change has been in CSSPS’s utilization of social media to inform and connect. “Our college has revamped and amplified our social media presence. We know that in times like this, people may be more open to staying in touch via Facebook or Instagram, and we have become more active in our daily sharing, posting and outreach via these methods,” Gutierrez explains.

Gutierrez notes that another recent and notable accomplishment for CSSPS was the creation of UW-Parkside’s first-ever Spanish language podcast: Parkside Presente. Parkside Presente is hosted and produced by Gutierrez and airs on Wednesdays each week. Gutierrez says, “This podcast, since it began in April amid the pandemic has been dedicated to sharing community updates related to the pandemic, student messages, interviews, and more recently our Hispanic Heritage edition. The idea of this podcast came from the lack of messaging and communication outlets that were accessible to our Spanish-speaking community, so we created this podcast to serve as a source of relevant information for our community.”

A new semester also fosters a sense of excitement and, for Gutierrez and the rest of CSSPS, this semester is no different. She cites the college’s “Election Experience” program as a source of excitement and a potential for promoting community engagement. She states, “We have officially kicked off our programming for the Election Experience. This series of events are meant to engage students, campus community, and outside community members to think critically about the Presidential elections and become more civically engaged.”

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