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Finding New Ways to Connect

Learning a new language is tough. It’s even harder when you can’t practice speaking the language face-to-face.

When Howard Community College began contemplating remote learning because of the coronavirus pandemic, Rosie Verratti worried the college’s English Language Center (ELC) would lose many of its students.

Before any decisions were made, the senior director of languages and culture and her team got to work, visiting classrooms and helping students set up the college’s learning management system on their cell phones.

“Most of them have cell phones, so it was an effective way for them to access online classroom instruction,” Verratti said. 

Then, ELC staff members called every enrolled student to review the process again in each student’s first language.

Along with phone calls, instructors and staff members have embraced a range of personalized and interactive ways to stay connected with their students. 

“Part of what keeps our students engaged is English interaction,” she said. “It’s really important to them.”

Continuing education classes range in duration, running anywhere from one day to 15 weeks, said Minah Woo, associate vice president of continuing education and workforce development. With new classes starting almost every week, the division of continuing education had “a lot of variables to manage” when moving online, explained Woo.

Some classes could not transition to online learning, like the Aquafit water exercise program, personal enrichment and seniors programming, because of the hands-on and experiential nature of those classes.

But staff members in the division did teach many instructors how to use videoconferencing to continue their classes online. Woo recruited past instructors to return and help.

“They can facilitate while the instructors teach,” Woo said. “Instructors can send them their presentations before the class, and the facilitators can pull them up on the screen and moderate as needed. It lowers the technology barrier.”

The ELC moved all of its 110 classes online, and about 60% of students are still participating, Verratti said.

“As a teacher who really loves to build rapport with my students in face-to-face classes, it has been difficult to keep the community going while using solely Canvas and Zoom,” said Christopher Morphew, ELC academic support coordinator. “However, in every Zoom session, we always start with a chat about how their lives are going and what things they are enjoying or struggling with. Not only does this allow opportunities for us to feel like our class is meeting [in person] but this also gives everyone an outlet to deal with all the changes and obstacles we are faced with.”

Like the ELC, the Adult Basic Education program is using videoconferencing to stay connected to students.

“It has really been rewarding seeing how students’ morale has been remarkably high amidst all the challenges with this new style of remote learning,” said Khadeeja Shafi, instructor. “Adult learners can sometimes feel reluctant, but the students have been trusting and feel supported to achieve their goals.”

College Opportunities for Readiness Education (CORE), an education program for adults with different abilities, is using videoconferencing, too.

“The group knows the importance of staying in contact,” said Woo. “Instructors interact with them socially online and guide them through activities and discussions… they’re looking at other ways, even if we’re not able in totality to move the instruction online, to remain relevant and meaningful in our students’ lives.” 

Of the 24 adults in the CORE program, 15 to 16 regularly participate in the Zoom sessions, Woo said. “They’re highly engaged, and they love it,” she said.

HCC is also helping students with young children at home. HCC enhanced its existing partnership with Black Rocket – a science, arts, and technology company that provides programming during HCC’s Kids on Campus summer camps. Black Rocket is providing a range of classes including online coding classes and even daily esports competitions. 

Still, there’s no time to rest for the Division of Continuing Education and Workforce Development. Summer classes have continued online.

Topics: Campus Life
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