CGPS Collaborates to Meet Challenges of COVID-19

UNE Online square logo, University of New EnglandIn 2020, all of education (higher education as well as K-12) has been grappling with the new realities of remote learning and “pivoting” to emergency remote teaching as schools and institutions are forced to close related to COVID-19.

As an entirely online graduate school with years of experience delivering online learning experiences, UNE’s College of Graduate and Professional Studies (CGPS) is well-prepared to handle new challenges brought on by COVID-19, in support of our impacted students and faculty.

Collaboration across the college

CGPS provides fully online and asynchronous instruction and strives to provide authentic experiential learning for all students. For students thinking about a new career, gaining real-world experience can be invaluable. Many CGPS academic programs offer site-based or workplace placements in the form of internships, field-based research, or practica.

Fully-online programs in healthcare and the helping professions often require in-person fieldwork to meet rigorous accreditation standards. The UNE Online Instructional Design Services (IDS) team was able to work quickly and closely with Academic Programs to provide solutions for students who were impacted as COVID-19 closed schools and made designated field-based work sites unavailable.

CGPS has a great deal of experience in delivering quality graduate online learning experiences. During this time, the Academic Programs and the IDS team focused on our core competencies and continuing obligation to provide online learning experiences that are meaningful and relevant, while still meeting the needs of students whose day-to-day lives have dramatically shifted.

One example of this collaboration was between IDS and the Education Program. Our scholar-practitioner model requires that students be in on-ground school environments, actively conducting research and observations. What do you do when you no longer have access to a traditional classroom? Educators are a resilient and resourceful bunch, but the sudden closure of schools and the shift to remote teaching has been stressful.

In CGPS, we worked together to quickly adapt by creating alternative assignments in courses within our MSEd, CAGS, and doctoral tracks. For example, in EDU 690: Action Research, we eliminated an existing discussion board prompt to give students a forum to discuss how their districts were approaching remote learning; students were encouraged to share tips, tools, and resources for delivering instruction in these challenging times. This forum provided an opportunity for students to expand their usual community of practice to include classmates from all over the country, as we are all trying to find workable solutions to remote learning in uncertain times.

Relevant learning experiences

For teachers, time in the classroom with their students is critical; with the absence of those school surroundings, it was particularly important to our team that the revised assignments in the Education courses be thoughtful and relevant. The MSEd Action Research course (EDU 690) was particularly impacted in terms of timing; students were prepared to begin 3 weeks of data collection for action research projects taking place in their classrooms or school environments just as public schools across the country were closed.

Instructional Designer Amy Wright worked with Program Director Dr. Jayne Pelletier (who is also the instructor for one section of EDU 690) to create alternative assessments, ensuring that students would still have relevant experiences with data collection and analysis, as well as meaningful opportunities to connect and discuss with their peers in class discussions, even without access to their classrooms.

In another course, EDU 704, Evaluation & Supervision of Instructional Personnel, students are expected to use a variety of instructional observation strategies to conduct classroom observations; when public schools closed, students lost access to the environments necessary for completing the assignments. Amy worked with Elaine Hughes, Assistant Director, to provide support to students for video conferencing, so they could continue to conduct interviews and with colleagues.

Students were encouraged to use Zoom to complete mock pre- and post-observation conferences with colleagues from their schools. The classroom observation assignment occurred just as schools were closing.

CGPS provided a variety of classroom instructional videos from the Massachusetts DOE website that students could use as an alternative, ensuring that everyone had opportunities to practice the skills acquired through coursework. Even though we could not directly take advantage of the experience of a teacher’s physical classroom at this time, we were able to design and create learning experiences in support of our students that were intentional, thoughtful, and authentic.

“It is such a great thing to be involved with such a great group of problem solvers and professionals who put students first and find solutions that make sense for our students. Thank you for your support and encouragement.”

– Dr. Michael B. Shaffer, Adjunct Instructor, UNE

Flexibility for our students

In some cases, accommodating the “new normal” of COVID-19 has simply meant increasing the level of flexibility and empathy in our courses.

In our Master of Public Health program, we were able to flex the timelines to accommodate both students and faculty working on the frontlines of this crisis.

In one Doctor of Education course, IDS worked with an instructor to change an assignment from a written paper to providing students the choice of a written paper or a recorded presentation to assess a learning outcome competency. This instructor also pivoted to allow students to record their discussion posts and responses using video or audio tools. Since most of the students are K-12 educators who are now working to convert their lesson plans to teach online, the instructor for this course found that giving students a choice and the ability to record their responses helped students stay on track, keep up with assignments and minimize their stress. It also provided opportunities to practice using new learning technologies that they can add to their own teaching practices.

Committing to excellence

These are challenging times for everyone, but at CGPS we are continually focused on creating engaging, high-quality online education.

Interested in developing your skills as a teacher? Learn more about the Graduate Programs in Education offered at UNE Online or:

Get the guide to our online Graduate Programs in Education

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