When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the physical closure of colleges and universities across the nation, William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business was positioned to make the unprecedented transition to a remote learning environment due to its Center for Online Learning.
Over 30 percent of the Mason School faculty were already teaching students enrolled across the school’s portfolio of online graduate-level programs. These faculty had received training prior to COVID-19 related to online course design as well as best practices for teaching and supporting online students. Many of these faculty members helped others in their area make the transition to remote teaching.
“When I developed and taught the Strategy course for the online MBA program several years ago, I never anticipated that experience would be so useful in today’s COVID world,” said Bob Williams, Clinical Lecturer of Marketing. “That experience years ago and in subsequent teachings of the online course has, and will be, invaluable to me.”
Seasoned online instructors like Williams, coupled with the established expertise the Center, served as a foundation for the remaining faculty, staff, and students to successfully move online as well.
“The existing infrastructure coupled with new and existing technology provided a foundation for Mason School faculty to develop innovative solutions, including remote instruction, which leveraged their strengths and served the needs of our students,” said Senior Associate Dean Kim Smith.
During the Mason School’s response to the coronavirus, Center leadership were members of the Mason COVID-19 Command Team and the Faculty at Speed Team (FAST), offering insight and expertise to the administration and faculty as it looked to move instruction of over 400 undergraduate and graduate students into a remote environment. The Mason School also secured a contract with the Center’s online program development partner Everspring that allowed faculty to receive support for their Instructional Designers as needed.
“We quickly evaluated our resources to figure out the best ways we could support the residential programs to move hundreds of classes and students into a remote environment while we continued to provide our online program students exceptional service as their personal and professional lives were disrupted due to the virus,” said Pam Suzadail, Associate Dean and Executive Director of the Center for Online Learning.
The Center’s staff also worked with the student services teams throughout the Mason School by sharing what they do for online student engagement as well as student retention and escalation protocols, and offered suggestions for residential student success in an online environment.
“The bulk of our work as a Center was collaborating with various units to make sure faculty and students could make the shift as smoothly as possible,” explained Ali Blankinship, Director of Instructional Affairs for the Center for Online Learning.
Blankinship served on FAST and worked with the Mason School’s Academic Innovation team to develop content and resources for the Mason Instructional Continuity Site and to create an online course template for Blackboard. She also co-facilitated webinars with Academic Innovation and William & Mary’s Studio for Teaching and Learning Innovation aimed at preparing faculty for remote instruction during the spring and summer semester. Additionally, Blankinship provided one-on-one instructional design and technology consultations for Mason School faculty.
“In a very difficult, confusing time, the Center provided clear, personalized guidance that was critical in making the second half of the spring semester as valuable as possible for students,” said Rick Spatz, Adjunct Lecturer of Marketing and Executive Partner at the Mason School. “The Center was an oasis of professional calm and useful answers in a turbulent period.”
Though the shift to remote learning didn’t come without its own set of challenges, the overwhelming response from faculty and students in the residential programs was favorable including from those who were charged to complete their coursework remotely while simultaneously managing an array of different life circumstances, including things like moving off campus and searching for viable employment opportunities.
“[As students], we are taught to trust the process. During the pandemic, that motto came to life. The business school acted swiftly and handled the situation beautifully. Our curriculum didn’t suffer, our teachers were available during virtual office hours, and the Graduate Career Management Center was doing virtual jobs conferences and aggressively networking with our alumni and corporate partners,” said second-year residential full-time MBA student Peter Hayden. “More importantly, we became united. We acted as a family and I credit this to everyone who worked tirelessly on our behalf to ensure we were safe and our education didn’t fall to the wayside.”