April 27, 2020
MALVERN, ARKANSAS -- Even before the education world shifted gears and moved courses from campus to the Internet, Arkansas State University Three Rivers’ Title III Distance Education program was teaching other colleges their methods of providing online instruction and student services. “Because of the technologies and training provided by our Title III program, our college entered this COVID-19 crisis in a much better situation than some others did,” said Pat Simms, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.
The Title III program Simms mentioned refers to a federal grant awarded to the College under the Strengthening Institutions Program. The five-year grant, awarded in 2016, provides $2.2 million to improve distance-delivered instruction.
“And right now, online students are all we have,” noted Chris Robbins, Title III Project Manager and Director of Distance Education at ASUTR. Robbins took a panel of College employees to the Instructional Technology Council conference in Charleston, SC, this February to present a session about ASUTR’s live online classes. Aurora Adney, Title III Technical Specialist, Ronna Pennington, Senior Instructor of History, Zach Bledsoe, American National Government instructor, and Robbins discussed their roles in presenting and training for live online classes. In May 2019, a contingency from the College presented at the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development conference to discuss how the Title III program made possible a number of student services online. Keesha Johnson, Director of Enrollment, Heather Sikora, Nursing Instructor, Allison Malone, Director of Library/Learning Resource Center, Pennington and Robbins discussed their use of technology for training new online students, offering online orientation, online library resources, and the use of online accessibility tools, all funded by the Title III grant.
The Title III Distance Education program is comprehensive and meant to equalize the instruction and services between on-campus and online students, Robbins explained. Members of faculty and staff have received certification in Blackboard, the College’s secure online course delivery system, and Blackboard Collaborate, a video conferencing tool that also allows lecture recording, both of which have proven vital during this shift to all-online classes. Additionally, the grant provides training for online faculty that leads to them earning the Quality Matters Teaching Online Certificate. Because so many employees have already been trained, making the move to all-online classes on Monday, March 13 was not a stretch, Robbins added. Adney, along with additional faculty and staff who had already completed the training, helped train other instructors to prepare them for the shift. Faculty members have created lecture videos, recorded announcements, and have even changed what would have been in class labs or presentations to a recording or video conferencing format so that no course objectives are sacrificed.
Now that classes have been online for several weeks and it has been announced that all summer courses will also be online, the Title III Distance Education program continues to collaborate with the college’s information technology department to support faculty, staff, and students. “We want all parties involved to know that we are here to help, not just in this emergency situation, but anytime,” Robbins said.