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Grand View Strives to Maintain Strong Relationship Through Flexibility + Empathy

Online Learning at Grand View University

April 25, 2020

No one signed up for a semester like this, but here we are anyway. Like almost every other college or university in the country, Grand View University found itself making a sudden pivot to online teaching and learning last month, a result of the measures put in place to help mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This meant that faculty, staff and students who are used to interacting primarily in a face-to-face, synchronous manner were now going to have to work with one another remotely. Courses that were designed as in-person experiences would now be completed online.

With many of our students returning to their homes, their learning environments would now be kitchens, bedrooms, porches or cars instead of classrooms, and they would be interacting with course material, each other and their faculty members through screens as opposed to sitting around the seminar table. Any way you slice it, this is a radically different context than the one we thought we’d be in when the semester began in January.

Innovating + Pivoting at Grand View

Fortunately, we were on Spring Break when the decision was made to move to remote teaching. That gave faculty a bit of lead time to begin converting and adapting their courses. But even more crucially, Grand View has already been offering online courses and programs, and many faculty and staff members have thus built a strong foundation of experience, expertise and perspective that was invaluable for our newer-to-online-teaching colleagues. It’s easy to be innovative when you have a culture in which that innovation can take root and flourish; in Grand View’s case, our online experience combined with a fiercely student-centered ethos meant that we were able to tackle the extraordinarily complex challenges of pivoting to a new mode of instruction with only five weeks remaining in the term.

Online Learning

While online courses may seem like an inferior means of education compared to traditional on-ground courses, it is possible to have online experiences that match more traditional formats in terms of both engagement and learning. It may take some different tools to do so, but it’s important to remember that online teaching and learning is still teaching and learning. Our faculty think deeply about student engagement; student success is at the heart of our mission. We are constantly working to improve learning experiences and outcomes; we think critically and reflectively about our teaching; and we have an administration which supports a culture of teaching and learning throughout campus.

When we decided to move classes online, job number one was to preserve as much of what makes a Grand View education so meaningful for our students: the close attention we pay to them and their learning; the care with which we teach; and the relationships that are built in our classes between not just our students and us, but between students and their expanding knowledge as well. Videoconferencing may have replaced the seminar table, and a webcam and monitor might be the new whiteboard, but our faculty and students are still busily engaged in the work of learning.

Moreover, we have been acutely sensitive to the ways in which our students’ lives are different now that we are doing college remotely, with work and family commitments changing along with their physical location. Flexibility and empathy, long a hallmark of our institutional culture, have become more important than ever. It’s a weird (and hopefully temporary) new pedagogical world we find ourselves in, but by focusing on what really matters for us — the Grand View educational mission — we’ve been able to manage these rapid changes while remaining true to our principles.

By drawing on the expertise and talents of our online faculty and program directors, we’ve been able to scale out this type of course rapidly and effectively. As we continue to plan as best as we’re able for an uncertain future, Grand View’s community continues to prioritize the relationships, caring and dedication to student success that have informed our work — from our first classrooms in 1896 to the array of students on the monitor for a virtual meeting today.

You can count on The Partnership to continue to share accurate and fact-based updates as well. See more on COVID-19 here.

Kevin Gannon

Kevin Gannon is the director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and professor of history at Grand View University in Greater Des Moines (DSM).