STEPHENVILLE, NL –
College of the North Atlantic’s (CNA) staff and students have steadfastly been working through the finer points of their learning and teaching experiences since moving the college’s numerous training programs online.
CNA transitioned from in-person, on-campus program delivery on March 16, having closed its 17 campuses across Newfoundland and Labrador in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Within four days, an extensive Academic Programs’ Continuity Plan was put in place, that saw the movement of online delivery for 181 of 205 offerings (fully or partially) by March 23 – a mere seven-day window of opportunity to bring thousands of employees and students back together under a virtual roof.
Bruce Hollett, CNA President & CEO, isn’t surprised that staff and faculty have risen to the new challenges presented to them daily, and he applauds them for making possible what may have seemed impossible in the beginning.
“We pulled together when it mattered most – not just for ourselves, but for our students,” he said. “The world has been in constant motion as it responds to all that is related to COVID-19. CNA has not been shielded from this and we needed to deal with it quickly. We have had experience delivering programs online for more than 20 years through our Distributed Learning (DL) Service, but ensuring the rest of the programs, including trades, were also moved online was a monumental task. But we did it, and we are continuing to ensure that students achieve their credentials where possible, as we prepare for the months ahead and the new opportunities that stem from this situation.”
Theresa Pittman, Associate Vice President of Connected Learning, says she is extremely proud of the DL team and all they were able to accomplish in such a short time. Not only were they able to provide more than 50 online group training sessions for over 500 of CNA’s faculty during the transition, they have also developed a wealth of self-help materials and training supports.
“We all pitched in to ensure that we were able to provide a transition that was as seamless as possible for faculty and our students,” said Pittman. “Several faculty members with online teaching experience have also really stepped up to help their colleagues. This was such a team effort, and I couldn’t be prouder of the results during this time of uncertainty. DL will continue to provide remote support for students and faculty members, so their online experience remains as positive as it was in the classroom.”
John Barry has never done anything online – whether it be teaching, evaluation or professional development – and he describes his newness to this method of delivery like “walking off the edge of a cliff.” But, thanks to the generosity and compassion of his students, the Graphic Design, Textiles and Apparel Design instructor has been able to overcome his nervousness in transitioning from the “in-class teacher guy” to one who now can create and deliver content virtually.
Barry prefers to jump right into new challenges, and his treatment of online teaching was no different. He credits the DL team and their support staff with helping him figure out how he was going to deliver the remainder of his program, while still being able to assist with learning and evaluating their assignments or projects while not being in the same space.
“Mostly I worried about my students’ experience; about them feeling safe and supported in this crazy time we’re in right now, and that the experience of learning online would feel valid and enriched to them,” Barry recalled. “I knew I would make mistakes, and I didn’t have a lot of time to make this happen, but I also knew that my students would collaborate with me to make it work. They’ve been outstanding throughout this whole situation. They worked hard to make it work, and they collaborated with me to create an environment that allowed us to get through the semester. They’ve been on board the whole time, which makes such a difference.”
Barry, who has 32 years of teaching experience, knew he wanted to be a teacher at a young age, and loves working with students, especially when he sees how full of creative energy, enthusiasm, imagination, talent, ability and perception they are. By being in the classroom with them, he was able to feed off this energy. Instead, he must now connect with and project to a glowing green dot on a computer screen and remind himself that there are students behind the scenes relying on him.
“It’s a gift and a privilege to be in a room with them, so my biggest concern was making sure this distance experience was good for the students, and that they were going to be able to thrive in this environment,” he explained. “I didn’t particularly care how easy or difficult this would be for me; I was worried about them. I wanted them to know they were still going to do the things that were important in class as a group, and feel this was a legitimate and real experience that wasn’t a stripped down version of what they had been getting in the classroom.”
The students have been champions during this process, added Barry, and its success or failure lies with them – their participation, adaption, beliefs and support of this new digital learning platform.
“The DL team was very generous and very forgiving in knowing that we are all trying to understand this at the same time. In a true spirit of collaboration, we are all working together to try and make this happen. The training they have given me gives me the belief that this is something I can do, and that made all the difference. I can still hang out with my students. We are still looking at beautiful, creative work. We’re still figuring out ways to connect and collaborate, and that’s all that really matters to me.”
To learn more about CNA programs, visit: www.cna.nl.ca
College of the North Atlantic