In March, when it became clear that face-to-face instruction was no longer safe or practical due to the dangers of COVID-19, College of the Redwoods was forced to move the remainder of the semester online. Converting all of our classes to an online modality was not easy, especially given the rapid onset of shelter-in-place orders. For the majority of our faculty, this was their first experience with online teaching, and, as anyone who has taught an online class can tell you, preparing for one, even under the best circumstances, is a tremendous amount of work and can take weeks or even months.
Of course, last spring we did not have weeks or months; what we did have was faculty and staff who were experienced in online teaching, or what we call more generally “Distance Education”, who were ready and willing to go out of their way to support their colleagues and, ultimately, students. Two such people are Biology Professor Wendy Riggs and Instructional Technologist Reno Giovannetti.
Both Riggs and Giovannetti served on the Distance Education Planning Committee before COVID-19 and since then, they have been working tirelessly to help prepare faculty who will be teaching online for the fall. In addition to their standard workload, they are taking very visible leadership roles, meeting with academic departments to have difficult pedagogical discussions, and leading multiple professional development sessions each week on Keep Teaching, an innovative platform they have developed using the college’s learning management system, Canvas.
They have made the Keep Teaching site a robust repository of “train the trainer” information, examples, exercises and advice. Activities on the site include a weekly discussion with topics ranging from the nuts and bolts of the Canvas system to course design and delivery to issues of student equity and accessibility.
All CR instructors are invited to use the site, which is set up in the same way any online course at the college is. They can join live discussions, watch videos of previous trainings, or peruse the online content at their convenience. Abigail Queen, who teaches history for CR, finds the site helpful saying, “I've taught online for a while, but I've learned SO much this summer with Wendy's material and everyone's examples and thoughts and resources. I hope we keep this site open and keep sharing ideas and new information in the future. We learn more each time we teach online and that learning process is amplified and enriched so much by this course.”
The site also ensures faculty are in compliance with state regulations and academic standards regarding distance education, which are more rigorous for the upcoming academic year than during the Spring 2020 semester when the state governing boards made a number of exceptions due to the emergency nature of the pandemic. All instructors must pass a short quiz, also developed by Riggs and Giovannetti, regarding online education legal requirements in order to be certified to teach online for CR.
Additionally, Del Norte Campus English instructor Ashley Knowlton has also been working long hours on the Keep Teaching site helping our faculty who teach in Pelican Bay State Prison and in the county jails convert their courses into a correspondence modality. This is essential work if we are to keep our incarcerated students engaged and actively learning when they do not have access to the internet.
We believe the Keep Teaching site they have developed is exceptional and unrivaled in the California Community College system and that Riggs and Giovannetti are leading the way for the state. As CR President Dr. Keith Flamer says, “Because of their hard work, we are confident that students will have a more satisfying and comprehensive experience in their online classes in the next academic year and that the entirety of our faculty will benefit from the lessons provided on the Keep Teaching site, whether in or out of the classroom.”