SHERIDAN — The Northern Wyoming Community College District is taking its next steps into virtual instruction for the remainder of this semester.
NWCCD President Walt Tribley reported that about 75% of courses are fully transferable to online instruction. Another 20% of classes will require hybrid teaching where most content can be delivered online but some face-to-face instruction is still imperative. The remaining 5% of courses require significant face-to-face instruction or handling of specific equipment in-person to accomplish learning goals.
“The reality is that some of our instruction will require face-to-face,” Tribley said.
Tribley said instructors are considering high-tech and low-tech options for alternative teaching methods ranging from GoPro cameras attached to faculty members to mail correspondences. He said creative ways are being engineered that will ensure quality learning.
For students who can complete the rest of the semester entirely online, Tribley does not expect these students to return to campus. However, they will need to fetch their belongings from the residence halls. Schedules are being developed so that students may retrieve their belongings while staying within social distancing guidelines.
An issue of vacating campus exists for international students or students who live in the married housing residences on campus, as they do not have alternative housing sites. Tribley said about 35 students fall into this category.
Tribley recognizes that bringing some students back whose courses require on-site learning has its complications. For instance, some students may live too far away to commute and solutions will have to be made for them.
“We have a strategy of mitigation,” Tribley said. “We aren’t stopping the coronavirus, but by our decisions we are mitigating the number of cases that will be in our communities.”
NWCCD is working through the logistics of ensuring all students are equipped to complete school remotely.
“Paying for internet access is not an issue because internet service providers are providing internet for free throughout the state,” Tribley said.
A survey indicated that, throughout all three NWCCD campuses, 80-85 students are not properly equipped with a personal device and/or internet availability right now. Tribley said they will find solutions for those students on a case-by-case basis.
To reach required instructional hours and give time for final exams, the college will be extending its academic calendar by about two weeks to account for the lost time since the closure began. Tribley said there may be exceptions where some classes go longer as necessary.
Tribley said he has received thoughtful and solution-oriented questions from students who have reached out to him directly. He said he knows the situation is hard for students and families, but he’s inspired by their understanding.
“The reaction [to the closure] has been a testament to the character of the students,” Tribley said.
Tribley said the inability to provide certainty in this situation has been a challenge to him.
“We’re trying to provide certainty where we can,” Tribley said. “That uncertainty is probably the hardest thing because, with certainty, people then adjust and they rise. Our team is rising anyway and our students are rising, as well. We have to accept uncertainty and thrive in it anyway.”
Sheridan College freshman Rachael Simons, a health science major with intent for dental hygiene who is also earning a coaching certificate, knew her semester was about to change once she noticed all the surrounding states developing COVID-19 cases. Simons said many Sheridan College students believed earlier this month that the virus would not affect them because it had been mostly targeting the elderly population. They also believed living in a fairly rural place would protect them.
“We didn’t think it would reach us so quickly, and then we learned the first Wyoming case was in Sheridan, and it’s affected us ever since,” Simons said.
When Simons learned her spring break had been extended, she felt worried and wondered what that would mean for students who require labs and hands-on learning with special machinery if the college elected to go online.
Simons has two labs this semester but believes they will be transferable online. Some of her instructors believe students may even do better learning from the comfort of their own homes and working more with books and reading materials.
Of her five courses, two were already taught online. The three in-person classes are in the process of transferring to online teaching, so Simons plans to stay in her hometown of Roy, Montana, to finish out the semester.
Simons worked three jobs on campus as a biology tutor, student ambassador and writing consultant.
“It’s a little weird not doing them because I was working 16-18 hours a week,” Simons said. “My income was being put toward next year’s education.”
Fortunately for employees who do not receive paid sick leave or time off, NWCCD hopes to lessen the financial burden of the closure.
“We are committed to paying our part-time employees and part-time student-employees that have a regular ongoing schedule this semester, even if they are unable to work,” Tribley said.
“For those able to work, even if hours are limited, [they] will be paid based on average hours worked prior to the closure (unless, of course, [they]’ve worked more hours). We are committed to this through the end of this fiscal year (June 30, 2020) for employees and through the end of the semester (May 22, 2020) for student-employees,” he said.
Simons said she has some concerns about online education not being as high of quality as face-to-face instruction would have been.
“Sometimes teachers have a better way of putting things in person,” Simons said. “You can communicate easier in face-to-face learning, and in classes such as anatomy and physiology and chemistry we like to do hands-on work. It just helps us better understand through seeing it and handling it.”
Simons said the college has done a “really good job” of communicating with students.
“I appreciate that they have updates online and post answers to frequently asked questions,” Simons said. “They’re sending out mass emails, which is great because we can hear directly from the president.”
Simons said she had a feeling the college would be closing when she, as a student ambassador, had to stop giving tours. Tours were canceled about a week before spring break, and Simons isn’t sure how the college is now going to host orientation for incoming students. Simons said many of her peers wish the college could remain open because they enjoy being on campus and socializing.
“A lot of us were finally getting into the routine of college,” Simons said.
She and her peers wanted to spend time together before people transferred to universities or went into the workforce, but she and her friends accept the closure is necessary to prevent more people from getting sick.
Note from The Press: My Bighorns, our free app, has a dedicated section with this page and more, so you can access the latest updates easily on your smartphone or tablet. Download from the Apple Store or Google Play.