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Months of faculty prep for online classes drive student success this fall

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Aug 21, 2020

After months of preparation, fall classes at College of Lake County (CLC) start on August 24. Since 78 percent of classes at the college are online this semester, every faculty member benefited from professional development to teach them how to create a Zoom classroom experience akin to what students normally experience on-campus.

Sociology professors John and Marie Jose Tenuto teaching from home with virtual set up

Unlike the experience faculty and students went through when classes abruptly switched to alternative delivery last spring due to the pandemic outbreak, this fall’s digital classroom is better equipped to ensure student success. Whether it’s using breakout rooms for small group discussions or motivating students through interactive Zoom video presentations, faculty are prepared to keep students engaged in their virtual classrooms.

“The college provided various offerings to help faculty as they transitioned to new modes of course delivery,” said Page Wolf, faculty development chair at CLC. “Many faculty members spent the summer engaged in workshops and webinars developing active learning strategies for our new learning environments, whether they were live via Zoom, hybrid, or online anytime modalities.”

Summer semester was a prime opportunity to pilot many of these strategies. Psychology professor Martha Lally taught her psychology class online this summer. She provided slides before class, opened Zoom rooms early so students could mingle before it began and stayed late on Zoom afterwards for questions.

“As much as possible, I wanted students to actively interact with me, each other and the course material,” said Lally. “Mixing up the daily class format and being flexible, supportive and available outside of class time facilitated a successful semester.”

Xavier Torres, one of Professor Lally’s psychology students, said, “Being in class online is not that different than being in person. The PowerPoint is the same thing as seeing it in class. It really feels like I’m there in class, but now I’m in my room in pajamas.”

Torres said Professor Lally would get everyone involved, even more so than if they were in a classroom together. Even though he finished his associate degree this summer, Torres will continue taking online classes at CLC this fall because it’s the most affordable option as he prepares to transfer.

At least two faculty members went as far as renovating their home office into a virtual classroom they call “The Rebel Base,” equipped with the latest technology and a co-pilot. Married sociology professors John and Maria Jose Tenuto are taking turns operating the camera and moderating student chats while the other teaches from their home. They made room for floor space to walk, set up a monitor to mimic a projector screen and positioned a camera that can zoom and pan so there’s movement and the ability to focus on important information.

"We wanted to harness the best of the traditional classroom with the best of Zoom capabilities,” Tenuto said. “Creating ‘The Rebel Base’ is a personal investment we’re willing to make because students can experience the most positive Zoom live class we can give them. It also makes it seem more like being at CLC for us. We get to stand, move and use a physical whiteboard to bring some humor and energy to the learning experience.”

Student success and safety is at the forefront of CLC’s work and a new student guide was recently created to help navigate the semester ahead. It outlines the safety guidelines in place for the necessary courses being taught in-person on campus. It also directs students where to go to access the abundance of resources still available virtually and in-person by appointment.

As campus navigates this next chapter in its 50-year history, teaching and learning excellence is at the college’s core purpose and this fall is no exception. Whether it’s in the classroom or online, there’s no better time to learn than now.

About College of Lake County:

The College of Lake County is a comprehensive community college committed to equitable high-quality education, cultural enrichment and partnerships to advance the diverse communities it serves in northeastern Illinois. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, college classes are affordable and accessible to help each student achieve academic, career and personal goals. More than 70,000 students graduated with degrees and certificates since the college opened in 1969. The College of Lake County is the only higher-education institution ranked among the top 15 best places to work in Illinois by Forbes and is a national leader in many areas, including sustainability and conservation.