Emmitsburg, Md (WDVM) — Mount St. Mary’s University is bare. You won’t find many signs of students or professors on campus, but that doesn’t mean lessons aren’t being taught.
On Friday afternoon, the university announced that classes will be conducted remotely for the rest of the spring semester.
And that that means virtual learning.
“This environment is as close to the experience that our students would have if they were all sitting here physically in front of me,” explained Professor Kraig Sheetz, Dean for the School of Natural Science and Mathematics at Mount St. Mary’s University.
On Wednesday, 247 faculty members took their classes out of the classroom and online for the more than 2,200 undergraduate and graduate students.
“We were ready to begin a plan that had been formulating, hoping we’d never have to do this, for the two weeks prior to that,” explained Barb Marinak, Dean for the School of Education at Mount St. Mary’s University.
Within 48 hours, staff members with Information and Technology Support Center and Center for Instructional Design and Delivery created classrooms modified with cameras and connected to Zoom online video conferencing. In total, eight classrooms are digitally connected including four on the main campus and four more at the university’s Frederick location.
Now professors are able to virtually connect and interact with students; they can jot down on whiteboards, perform experiments and talk directly to students as if they were seated in the right class.
On Friday morning, Sheetz stood before one of his physics courses where nine students tuned in, all from different locations.
“The university gave us that almost a week off so that teachers could transition everything over and you could get some of your books home and get everything you needed,” recalled one student in the class.
Professors received training to help make their transition to distance learning as efficient as possible, and they stayed in touch with students throughout the process.
Still, online learning has also posed challenges for some students.
“It’s a little stressful for me because I always like to be there in person. I personally have never taken online courses and I knew it was going to be very different being a half-hour away and having to look through a screen and try to learn,” explained student, Gary Rojewski.
Other students expressed difficulties concentrating on the noise and happenings away from university classrooms. “My family is loud and chaotic,” explained student Laura Kingham, “My dog is always trying to come on-screen or barking at squirrels so it’s a little bit more distracting at home than it would be at school.”
Faculty say they’re dedicated to improving the remote learning experience through tweaking of their talking pace and teaching styles for this modern method of learning.
“We have all of the tools that are necessary for faculty members to be as effective as they are in a classroom. We have the support here at Mount St. Mary’s and we have the faculty that are willing to problem-solve their way through that,” Marinak said.
In a statement, the university announced that they aim to hold some form of a 2020 commencement ceremony.
Students are being asked to wait until April 14 to empty their residence hall rooms.
For more information, visit the Mount St. Mary’s University website page on COVID-19 updates here.