Natalie Parker, director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) and Distance Education, is an expert in virtual learning. Natalie has worked in the field of curriculum and instructor development her entire career and has worked hard over the past few weeks to ensure that TXWES students and faculty members have the tools they need to finish out the spring semester exclusively online. Here’s what Natalie had to say about the transition:
- How are faculty being trained to teach exclusively online?
During the extended Spring Break, over 175 faculty participated in virtual, hands-on training to learn how to use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. Collaborate is a web conferencing tool built into Blackboard, the University’s learning management system.
Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is similar to apps such as Zoom, Web Ex, Google Hangouts and Skype. Multiple participants meet in an online space where they can communicate using audio, video and chat. Faculty and students will meet in the virtual classrooms at their regularly scheduled class times, and faculty will record the sessions to ensure that students who live in other time zones, have changed work schedules, or experience technology interruptions are able to access class lectures and discussions.
This virtual environment allows instructors and students to have real-time exchanges as a whole class and in smaller “breakout rooms.” Students who do not have access to a computer can join the sessions using the Blackboard app on a phone or tablet.
- Are we still able to capture the Smaller. Smarter. experience? And are students still able to contact faculty on an individual basis when needed?
Although the faculty have transitioned to virtual teaching, they are able to replicate the Smaller. Smarter. experience. They will host virtual office hours, respond to email and receive copies of voicemail messages via email. Faculty will replicate the face-to-face experience to the extent possible. They will have an active presence in the virtual classroom, which contains other Blackboard tools such as class announcements, electronic assignment submission and web-based quizzing.
- What other resources have been or are going to be digitalized for our students?
To assist students with the transition to the virtual classroom, faculty have sent messages to students’ txwes.edu email accounts with links to video tutorials and written step-by-step instructions for joining a class session. Students also have access to a self-paced Blackboard orientation course, and the Help Desk staff are prepared to answer questions that students might have.