USU's Faculty, Staff, Alumni and Students Team Up in Covid-19 Crisis

In true Aggie style, faculty, staff, students and administrators at Utah State University campuses throughout the state responded heroically this week to unprecedented challenges wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a historic undertaking that took place rapidly and as seamlessly as possible for students, all of the courses that were taught on one of USU’s 32 campuses and statewide education centers just 10 days ago have already been delivered as remote courses for a full week. 

It All Adds Up

In the first week that all of Utah State University’s courses went fully remote: 

  • USU faculty and instructors added 7,048 videos to USU’s eLearning system.
  • Support staff at USU spent 182 hours in live chats, helping faculty and instructors get their content converted from the classroom to the computer.
  • New remote training materials for USU faculty and staff was viewed 4,084 times.
  • USU’s eLearning team swelled from about 10 full-time staff members and eight part-time student interns to 105, including 26 students from the Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences department in the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services.

Director Neal Legler said USU’s Center for Innovative Design and Instruction team began discussing the possibility of having to cancel all classroom instruction at a staff meeting on March 2, without the expectation that it would actually come to that. When the official word came from President Noelle Cockett on March 12, announcing the temporary cancellation of face-to-face instruction, Legler and his team were already in the middle of an emergency training meeting. 

Many of the trainees in that meeting were volunteers from USU’s Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences department, who had responded instantly to an email from ITLS faculty member Kristy Bloxham.

“We had such an amazing response to my request from students and alumni to help CIDI in the Covid-19 content conversion process,” Bloxham said. 

Andy Walker, faculty member and ITLS department head, praised the ITLS students who did not suspect that they would be paid for their efforts. Walker said he has been continuously surprised and touched to hear about all of the ways that ITLS students have been involved in the undertaking.

In addition to being willing, the ITLS student volunteers were able. USU’s ITLS remote master’s degree programs were recently rated sixth in the world in the 2020 edition of the U.S. News & World Report, putting the program in the top two-percent of 309 online graduate education programs. 

The ITLS student volunteers were quickly trained, hired and put to work helping instructors convert their curriculum to remote instruction. In all, 105 staff, students and faculty members were amassed, several of whom have worked seven days a week to “flip” all face-to-face classes to the Canvas Instructure learning platform used by USU students and educators. 

“Since March 16, we’ve gone from 1,881 activity courses on Canvas to 2,425 courses that are in there now,” Legler said. “There are a lot of hands at work here, involving a lot of individual little challenges … and people have managed it remarkably well, I would say.”

Faculty and instructors spent 182 hours in live chat conversations the first week. The phones were busy, too, and web-based training materials developed by the CIDI team had 4,084 page views. Legler said he wasn’t surprised when USU’s faculty worked together to make the transition.

“We’ve been doing online programs for 25 years, and teaching remotely for even longer using broadcast methods and interactive video conferencing. There’s a whole lot of experience and expertise among our faculty around eLearning and distance education,” Legler said. “What we didn't expect, what surprised us was the ITLS volunteers. That was really cool. They came on board and were really helpful.”

Robert Wagner, vice president for Academic and Instructional Services (AIS) at USU, said he has been impressed with the response of the ITLS faculty, staff, alumni and students. Wagner said he has briefed USU’s president and provost several times in the last several days about the ITLS efforts and they are very appreciative.

“They’ve become an integral part of the response to USU’s move to remote instruction. I don’t know of any other institution that’s been able to do what we’ve done with such a large support team,” Wagner said. “We’ve been extremely grateful.”

ITLS Students Stand Out

ITLS faculty member Kristy Bloxham said 27 students and alumni volunteered to help with the USU’s eLearning transition, not knowing they would get paid. Instead, the ITLS volunteers saw this as an opportunity to learn, grow and help.

“In the past week we have seen the world turn to, and depend on, those who know how to develop and deliver online learning,” Bloxham said. “They have become the heroes of the day!”

Members of the ITLS Covid-19 support team specifically assisted with Category 4 courses. These courses are those identified as very difficult to do at a distance such as labs, practicums, etc. Bloxham said these ITLS students stepped up and worked through the weekend to contact instructors, discover their specific needs, and to brainstorm with them about options. Many volunteers just jumped in, spending a tremendous amount of time, to help instructors with little projects. Their timeliness and willingness to help relieved a lot of stress for USU’s instructors. By Tuesday night on March 17, all requested needs were taken care of or were in an ongoing help status.

“This really helped to support our overburdened CIDI team as they were able to support their assigned instructors better and knew that our students were a good reflection on the entire team,” Bloxham said.

Some of the stories about ITLS student experiences:

  • Fred Poole saw a need for the Linguistics department and volunteered to reach out to them and help them with best practices for how to take their courses remotely.
  • Crystine Chipman worked with a math instructor to help them do remote math exams involving symbols, diagrams and formulas.
  • Megan Hamilton worked with a chemistry instructor to help get virtual labs set up for his courses.
  • Roxie Christensen worked with an art instructor to find resources and help to get his courses remotely.
  • Glorya Toloso worked with HDFS to specifically find ways to move their practicum and student teaching remotely while maintaining academic rigor and assisting parents at home. She taught them how to use discussion groups remotely and helped them get everything set up in Canvas.

Many of our students jumped right in to help, even if they didn’t know how to do something. They just dug in and figured it out and then taught the instructor.

Several students went right to an instructor's office and taught them/helped them with Canvas. They also remained available to them to answer any questions that they had.

For more information about earning a bachelor's, master’s or doctoral degree in Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences, call (435) 797-2694 or apply at https://itls.usu.edu/apply/.