The Director of Adelphi’s Faculty Center for Professional Excellence, Nathalie Zarisfi, describes how she and her team helped move 1,000-plus courses to a virtual environment.
When it first became clear that Adelphi might have to suspend on-campus classes and move to remote learning, the University turned to its Faculty Center for Professional Excellence (FCPE) to prepare the faculty for something most had never done: teach online. The transition has been successful, and to learn how that was accomplished, we talked with Nathalie Zarisfi, director of the center.
Most readers probably have never heard of FCPE. What does it do?
We’re a teaching and learning center, and we help Adelphi faculty members discover new ways to teach and new ways to take advantage of teaching technology. Everything we do is designed to promote world-class academics at Adelphi and provide the best learning opportunities for our students.
When did you start preparing for the move to remote learning?
We got started early because part of our responsibility is to ensure continuity of instruction and to make sure that Adelphi can hold classes even during major disruptions. We actually developed a resiliency plan two years ago. It was designed for three scenarios: weather emergencies, cyberattacks and, almost as an afterthought, pandemics. We thought that was the least likely situation, but we went ahead with planning for it anyway.
We started preparing for the coronavirus threat in early February by adding tools to our Continuity of Instruction website that would be most useful in helping faculty shift to online teaching. These included new learning modules, tutorials and guides. We sent out a newsletter at the end of the month to let everyone know about these new resources, and, on March 3, we started running workshops to train faculty members for teaching online.
What was your biggest challenge?
Time! We started early, but we still ran out of time. We had only three weeks to run workshops. It all happened almost overnight.
The job facing us was huge: We had to prepare more than 800 faculty members to move more than 1,000 courses online—and FCPE has only 10 staff members and nine student workers. We usually prefer working one-to-one with faculty members to develop online teaching plans that build on their strengths and practices, but we obviously didn’t have that luxury. Instead, we had to develop tools and techniques that would serve all faculty members.
How did the faculty respond?
The number of faculty members who came on board and gave up their spring break was amazing. Our workshops had their highest attendance the week before and the week of spring break. We were running workshops for 60 to 70 faculty members, three times a day. We answered more than 500 emails during those two weeks. And faculty came in for one-to-one training, too, with 20 to 30 waiting in the center for their turns each day before we finally had to shut the office down because it was an unsafe situation.
I have to stress that teaching online is difficult, and the challenge facing our faculty was learning a whole new way of teaching with technology. But they really responded. They were excited to be learning a different way to teach.
What has been the biggest success?
Without a doubt, it has been the way it has gotten everyone to work together. Adelphi has an incredible culture of collaboration, and this situation is showing how strong that culture is. Everyone is pitching in and working together. It is inspirational.
Our FCPE staff were warriors, working 12 hours a day during March, weekends included, training faculty, creating video tutorials and designing online learning modules. I have to give special thanks to instructional designers Ryan Sobeck [ ’14, MFA ’16, MA ’17] and Karen Kolb, and interactive learning designer Erik Fox-Jackson [MA ’14] for the incredible job they did in developing resources for our faculty.
Carol Ann Boyle [MBA ’17, chief information officer] and the IT staff worked just as hard and were instrumental in helping deliver our remote learning tools. We have been working with her and the IT Help Desk very closely, meeting once each week to share ideas and develop strategies to meet the evolving needs of our faculty and students. IT is on the front lines providing support, day in and day out. In Carol Ann’s words, we are acting as “one team with one mission.”
Faculty members who are already teaching online have gone out of their way to help their colleagues. The School of Social Work, which has an online master’s degree program, has made their coursework available to faculty teaching other social work courses. The school even held its own training sessions. The same was true for nursing. And we had “faculty allies” at every other college and school at Adelphi.
There are some great individual stories, too. One is about a longtime history professor who has never wanted anything to do with technology. You couldn’t talk him into anything dealing with tech; he’d just wave his hand and walk down the hallway. But when it became evident that this was the way we were going to have to teach, he jumped on board. Sarah Eltabib, who is a senior lecturer in the General Studies program, sat him down and taught him how to do it, and now he’s teaching online!
And Craig Carson [PhD], associate dean of the Honors College, who teaches seminars for honors students, told me that he’d never had time to train on some of these technologies. Now that he’s gotten that training, he says it will inform how he teaches in the classroom. That’s something we hear all the time. Learning to teach online helps you reflect on the way you teach—and that makes you a better teacher.
What has made the biggest impression on you?
I’ve come away from this experience with an even deeper appreciation of what great, caring teachers we have at Adelphi. Throughout this trying period, our faculty’s greatest concern has been their students. Over and over, I’ve heard faculty members ask how we can make sure that online classes are engaging, accessible and equitable. At every single workshop, we’ve had faculty who worry that some of their students may not have laptops or WiFi. They ask how they can help their students succeed in an online class and how they can make remote learning a truly rewarding learning experience.
Again, I’m struck by the sense of community at Adelphi. As isolating as this situation is, with campus closed and everyone forced to remain apart, it’s so important to know that you have a community that’s right there with you. We are very lucky. We have a very tight, caring community.
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