Online instructional era unfolds at Fredonia

With the spring semester resuming, students, faculty and staff at the State University of New York at Fredonia are settling into an online distance learning model that was developed and put into place in remarkably short order so learning will continue during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The transition away from the face-to-face teaching mode has been eased by the Continuity of Academic Programming plan created by Fredonia in advance of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mandate to transition to digital learning and implemented by the eight-member Digital Instructional Support team, led by Coordinator of Online Learning Lisa Melohusky.

During spring break, faculty were initially assisted in the digital learning transition through in-person training, followed by the livestreaming of 18 individual training sessions, totaling 21 hours of instruction, which demonstrated the use of OnCourse tools.

“All sessions were well attended by faculty as they prepared to transition their courses to digital instruction,” Ms. Melohusky said.

Reed Library has also expanded its support to include OnCourse assistance for students, who may now contact a Fredonia librarian using 24/7 live chat.

“We will do our best to continue to be responsive to campus needs,” Ms. Eckenrode said. “This has truly been a team effort.” Academic Support as a whole has done an excellent job in being responsive and empathetic to the needs of students, she added.

Eckenrode added, “It is heartening to see how faculty are supporting one another and their students in this unprecedented situation.”

Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Kevin Kearns expressed his appreciation to the Digital Instruction Support team and the entire faculty for their “extraordinary efforts” during the crisis. “I’m proud of the Fredonia faculty and their staff who have accomplished so much in such a short time. An incredible amount of planning and work has gone into rapidly adapting from face-to-face to digital instruction,” Dr. Kearns said.

“The commitment to our students and their learning has been truly remarkable,” Kearns added.

Faculty recognize the challenges of online instruction, but they’re also eager to engage in new learning opportunities that are created.

Department of Biology Associate Professor Scott Ferguson considers himself to be very tech savvy, but in the past week he says he’s learned a lot of new online tools that are available to engage with students. Dr. Ferguson conducted his first online office hours on Monday and was able to see and chat with his student virtually.

“Of course we talked about academics and upcoming assignments, but also about how they were coping with the strain of being uprooted in the middle of the semester. It was therapeutic for all of us to try to reclaim some of the community that has been taken from us by the pandemic,” Ferguson said.

Teaching studio art online is an interesting challenge, acknowledges Department of Visual Arts and New Media Associate Professor Peter Tucker, “but, as I often tell my students, we are in the business of teaching creative problem solving. There are also amazing conversations happening on social media with studio art faculty all over the world facing similar situations. Together we can come up with solutions so that our students continue to learn and grow.”

In his 41st year at Fredonia, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Ted Schwalbe of the Department of Communication says he tends to be an optimist. “From a personal standpoint, I am learning a lot about online teaching. I had never taught a course online and as a teacher it is good for me to learn these new skills. Our support staff has done a phenomenal job trying to get faculty up to speed,” Dr. Schwalbe said.

“I also believe our students are looking forward to a degree of normalcy that our classes will provide,” Schwalbe added.

Faculty were initially anxious about finding solutions to support their students and continue the quality learning they would normally provide, Eckenrode explained, but they have identified tools and processes they can use and are becoming more comfortable with them.

Many students and faculty are eager to find ways to continue learning, Melohusky added. “As we progress, we hope both students and faculty will become more comfortable with the environment and enjoy some of the new ways we are learning and communicating,” she said.

“We will be operating differently the rest of this semester, but our commitment to ensuring students receive the education they deserve and the academic credits they require to graduate on time remains as strong as ever,” said Interim President Dennis Hefner.