This week, Red River College and its students took their first steps into new territory as courses resumed following a week-long study break.
The same social distancing practices public health authorities are asking everyone to follow to combat the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic — including cancelling all gatherings — make it impossible for students and instructors to gather in classrooms, workshops and other facilities where learning normally takes place. So, the College has turned to virtual program delivery to get the job done.
“Luckily, three of our greatest strengths as a College community are resilience, agility and innovation,” says Aileen Najduch, Acting Vice-President, Academic. “RRC leadership, faculty and staff came together last week to put those strengths to work in developing alternative forms of program delivery.”
Each program is different, and so is each approach to virtual program delivery. Some instructors are using online meeting platforms such as WebEx and Microsoft Teams to facilitate virtual classes and chats. Others are using Skype, Zoom, and YouTube group forums to connect and discuss course topics. Still others are sharing narrated PowerPoint presentations with students.
“I’ve already heard from an instructor who says the WebEx class they held for one of their Marketing courses this morning had full participation,” says Kirk Johnson, Dean, Business and Applied Arts, and Hospitality and Culinary Arts.
Many of RRC’s virtual program delivery tools were already in use before the COVID-19 outbreak. They’re simply being deployed more extensively now, says Johnson. For example, Business Administration students are using a networking app called Riipen to connect with real-world clients on projects.
As well, all RRC students have free access to LinkedIn Learning, an enormous database of online courses — a virtual asset Johnson says instructors will rely on more heavily in the months ahead. Although the College cancelled all practicums to protect the safety of its students, some programs are developing virtual practicum activities and experiences, including case studies with industry partners.
In addition to switching to alternative program delivery, RRC has reminded students that College supports and services are available online or over the phone if they need help coping with stress or anxiety, or if they require special accommodations for completing coursework. The College has also launched a coronavirus webpage to serve as a resource and news hub for staff and students.
For now, says College leadership, the “how” may have changed, but the “what” remains the same: helping students achieve their academic goals. RRC has committed to its alternative program delivery model until May 1, when the winter term ends. How the College proceeds from there will depend entirely on the pandemic, and the advice of provincial, national and international health authorities.
“Even though our hallways have never felt emptier,” says Najduch, “the compassion and creativity we’ve seen from our community gives us great hope that we will get through our current challenges and emerge stronger than ever.”