Early online presence prepared WCCS for COVID-19 crisis
In 2002, while most community colleges’ primary focus was adding new technical and traditional programs, Wallace Community College Selma began shifting its focus to adding online instruction for both technical and academic courses. “Although during that time online education was not popular for traditional colleges, I clearly understood that online education would provide access to more students in the black belt and surrounding areas where transportation was often a barrier,” said Dr. James Mitchell, WCCS President.
The College continued to increase variety and frequency of online course offerings and according to Mr. Raji Gourdine, Dean of Technical Programs and SACS Liaison, the College received approval from SACS to transition AA and AS degree programs fully online in 2008. The popularity of WCCS online program became evident by 2005 when students began to embrace online education. To date, almost two decades later, the momentum has continued as more than 95% of all WCCS students are enrolled in online courses. The College started early establishing a culture that embraces online learning by requiring all courses to have an online shell.
Dr. Tammie Briggs, Dean of Instruction, indicated “it was this early planning that set the stage for a seamless transition during the COVID-19. Because a well-established online infrastructure was already in place, the faculty was able to place emphasis on making student engagement the top priority in this transition.” Strategies used to bolster student/faculty engagement included: increased infusion of instructor created videos in online courses, scheduled video conference class meetings, and increased frequency of individual faculty and student conferences.
“Technical instructors are accustomed to blended courses which combine online courses and on campus lab instruction, but during this pandemic; instructors are embracing the alternative method of instructing. However, it is our goal to get students back into the lab as soon as possible, while maintaining an online presence,” said Gourdine.
We understand that the success of students largely depends on how well students can manage external factors that impede progress. The College understood the importance of expanding access and revising its method of delivery for support services such as: online student coaching services, advising, financial, etc. “Student support has become an integral part of student success at WCCS. We have to deal with academic and non-academic issues,” said, Dr. Donitha Griffin, Dean of Students.
The College’s early and current investments are already seeing positive results. As noted by a student on social media “a huge shout out to Wallace’s teachers…they are during a great job handling classes during this pandemic.” Although, some of the traditional students were nervous about online courses, they were able to quickly adjust. “After I heard the news about switching to online learning, I was a little worried. I am only use to taking on-campus classes, so I didn’t know how this would affect me,” said freshman Semira Jones. “However, my professors were extremely understanding by giving the class several ways to contact them at any time of the day.”