During a typical week, the University of Missouri–St. Louis campus is crowded with a lot of students and a few geese. This week, though, geese outnumber people due to UMSL’s transition to remote learning as a way to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Jessica Long-Pease, director of Millennium Student Center operations and Student Involvement, spoke with St. Louis Public Radio | 90.7 KWMU’s “St. Louis on the Air” host Sarah Fenske via phone to discuss how students, faculty and staff are handling the transition. The interview aired at noon on Thursday.
Long-Pease spoke of the campus’s dramatic difference from two weeks ago. To reduce the density of on-campus populations, classes are being held remotely through the remainder of the semester and employees will work remotely from March 23 to at least April 12.
“You just try to tread water at this second,” Long-Pease said. “There’s no other way to handle it. Right now, we have conversations one minute, and 20 minutes later that information changes and we have to shift course. So it has really been about being nimble and as flexible as humanly possible the last few weeks.”
Transitioning face-to-face classes to remote learning presents a number of challenges, particularly for students who prefer direct interaction with professors and classmates.
“I think our faculty members are doing an amazing job in trying to translate their in-person courses into online formats at this point, and they’re utilizing a number of different tools, but discussion boards and online learning only go so far,” Long-Pease said. “I think that’s one of the challenges we’re seeing, especially with discussion boards in these very heavily discussion-focused classes.
“We have some phenomenal folks that are instructional designers on our campus that are working with our faculty to navigate some alternative ways to present their coursework.”
UMSL’s connections with other colleges and universities that are making similar transitions serves as an invaluable resource for faculty and staff.
“We’re leaning into one another and recognizing that we have to in order to make it through this,” Long-Pease said. “I think the big thing right now is all the information-sharing that’s going on out there. There’s been some phenomenal webinars that have happened in the last few weeks with people coming to the table from so many different places, with so many different experiences, and being willing to share that knowledge and that content in a lot of spaces has been incredibly instrumental to our success moving forward.”
Campus officials are considering a long list of issues while addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, such as ensuring students have access to computers and the internet for classes and that the campus remains safe.
For Long-Pease and the Office of Student Involvement, the transition means using virtual platforms to support students, keep them connected with the UMSL community and help ease loneliness.
Many students are grappling with unknowns right now, like what will happen to their on-campus jobs.
“We’re taking our time a bit with those decisions,” Long-Pease said.
She also stressed the importance of facing obstacles together as more changes come about.
“I think it’s going to be a challenge,” she said. “We’re trying to work through it together collectively and recognize that we’re all learning in real time right now how to make this delivery work and that we’re going to have to have grace with one another as we move through the course of the remainder of the semester.”
To listen to the conversation in its entirety, click here.