Faculty and Staff Develop New Website to Help Ease the Shift to Online Education

A lone student uses a computer in a computer lab

When the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on the West Coast of the United States earlier this year, NC State began to devise plans in case the virus reached Raleigh—including a drastic shift to all-online courses. For that reason, Courtney Thornton, associate vice provost for academic personnel and policy, and a team of administrators and faculty developed a Keep Teaching website to offer helpful resources and strategies to aid the university’s instructors adjust to teaching online courses.

During the two-week process of developing the Keep Teaching website, Thornton and her team realized that the university’s faculty weren’t the only ones who might need help acclimating to the virtual classroom. That’s when she and the Office of Faculty Affairs partnered with the Division of Academic and Student Affairs and the Graduate School to create the Keep Learning website to help students acclimate to remote instruction.

“This is new territory for everyone,” Thornton said. “On the Keep Teaching site, we remind instructors to be compassionate and flexible with students. The Keep Learning site gives us an opportunity to remind students to also be patient and understanding with their instructors.”

Implementation

The Keep Learning website is filled with information and best practices to help students succeed in online courses. The strategies offered on the site were compiled from NC State faculty as well as other institutions with prestigious online programs. After drafting content and partnering with the Division of Academic and Student Affairs’ marketing team to design the site, Thornton sent it to NC State’s Distance Education and Learning Technology Applications (DELTA) as well as Global Engagement and library staff to review before publishing.

The extraordinary part? The entire process only took three days.

“It was a true team effort,” Thornton said.

Holly Hurlburt, assistant dean for University College and executive director for Academic Enrichment Programs, noted that lots of Zoom meetings were involved in the collaboration.

“It was a remarkable show of teamwork from folks all over campus,” Hurlburt said. “I’m so glad to have participated, both because this is an important issue and because I could learn so much from my colleagues.”

Feedback

Hurlburt, who in her role oversees the Honors and Scholars programs, the University Fellowship Office, and the Office of Undergraduate Research, has also received affirmation that the hard work by the Keep Learning team is appreciated by students.

“A student I work with has learning disabilities and was really anxious about learning online,” she said. “He said the website made him feel like someone cared about people like him.”

Sue Carson, a plant and microbial biology professor and director of TH!NK—Higher Order Skills in Critical and Creative Thinking, focused on researching and adding digital and online tools for students to use on the Keep Learning website. Carson is also director of the First-Year Inquiry Program and is organizing a retreat for its faculty members, where they will discuss and assess the effectiveness of NC State’s online curriculum this spring. She noted that the feedback from that meeting will be useful if the university is forced to start the fall semester online, and she is gathering material for some of her own classes as well.

“I regularly teach an honors seminar called ‘Outbreak’ that has a large focus on historical outbreaks and pandemics,” Carson said. “I’m not teaching it this semester, but am certainly gathering lots of new content for that class, sadly.”

Above all else, Thornton hopes the Keep Learning website reminds students that the university continues to care about them and their education during these difficult times.

“I hope our students know that the entire university community cares about them and their success,” Thornton said. “We are ready to help them find the support they need during this time. This site is only one small way that is happening across the university right now.”

Visit the Keep Learning website yourself at https://dasa.ncsu.edu/students/keep-learning/