Transition to remote learning a challenge, but OAI ramps up support efforts
Author: Katy Swordfisk
Posted: March 30, 2020

Moving more than 3,500 courses to a web-based format in a matter of days is, to put it simply, a challenge.

Before spring 2020, about 20% of classes at Portland State University were online. As the university responds to the growing coronavirus crisis, that is changing quickly. The entire spring term will now be remote. The Office of Academic Innovation (OAI) has ramped up its efforts to assist faculty as the entire campus prepares for the new reality, and meeting students where they are at.

“Our first priority is to provide faculty with practical tips and solutions to support a move to remote teaching in a short period of time,” said Johannes De Gruyter, OAI executive director. “There are also many unknowns and stressors for faculty and students. How can we keep learning going amidst these challenges? We believe compassion, patience, and flexibility can go a long way.” 

 Fortunately, OAI was able to utilize their existing resource structure to ensure faculty are supported through the transition. Multiple kits containing curriculum and guidance were built to not only inform faculty of their options, but help them set up courses remotely.

Those kits are considered a great start, De Gruyter said. 

“We try to reach as many people as possible with these teaching resources,” he said.

The next step is engaging faculty with the existing, albeit expanded, faculty support desk where OAI provides individualized, tailored guidance.

“We are devoting the entire OAI team so we can address the high need for remote teaching and learning,” he said. “We’re breaking records every day with the number of requests coming in. What the team there is doing is nothing short of magic.”

Faculty will likely have to wait to chat with someone, but De Gruyter said they’re clearing the queue daily so everyone is getting assistance. Incoming questions and concerns run the gamut, he added, from pedagogical questions to emotional support in using new technology.

Another option provides faculty with a chance to interact with one another via workshops and training related to the software they will all be using including Zoom and D2L.

De Gruyter said OAI’s daily workshops garner 60 to 70 people each session.

Finally, OAI is also supporting faculty and graduate teaching assistants who are building their own networks within the PSU community. These instructors are often familiar with digital and online learning, and act as mentors to others. De Gruyter said OAI is engaging with them in any way they can.

Although the virtual build-out is going ok considering the short time period, OAI is ready for the questions they expect to come with the beginning of spring term, he added.

“We’ve reorganized the support desk to be even more structured so we can handle another increase of calls,” De Gruyter said. “The start of term is generally busier, but we think it’s going to be 20-fold now.”

It won’t be easy, he added, but De Gruyter is optimistic the campus can take on this new challenge

“PSU was created in response to a crisis. We can do this,” he said. “I really do believe that.”