It is a “mega” feat for Canada’s largest liberal arts faculty, and it was completed with an unwavering focus on helping students.
More than 1,400 courses taught in York University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) are now being taught online. The migration from the classroom to an online format, necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, was a technically challenging undertaking that spanned all departments, operations and support services in the Faculty.
What does such an undertaking require to be successful?
The answer is simple – a collective, all-hands-on-deck mobilization with a steadfast focus on the student experience. The move from classroom to online delivery required professors to revise their course plans and draw on their teaching skills to engage with their students through new mediums. Staff have also mobilized online and continue to offer their support to students to help them navigate and experience productive, meaningful learning during a global pandemic.
The Faculty’s eServices team worked night and day to ensure that instructors had the support they needed to deliver their course material and lessons. This included the creation of 300 new Moodle course sites as well as migrating all course evaluations to an online format. Staff in eServices also provided around-the-clock remote support, prepared and loaned out more than 60 laptops to accommodate work-from-home arrangements and provided step-by-step instructions for online tools, including MyApps, the virtual private network (VPN) and Zoom web conferencing.
The LA&PS Academic Advising team also maintained constant online availability to students in need of support and guidance. During the first week of the University’s move to required services, the Academic Advising team interacted directly online with more than 1,000 students. Nearly 500 of these interactions were one-to-one academic advising appointments. Students were able to connect and interact with advisers through email, phone and via Zoom. The team is also looking to establish online “drop-in” hours as a way to further connect and assist students.
In addition to the nuts and bolts of the Faculty’s operations, the LA&PS Internship program moved online and continues to offer workshops and book student appointments through virtual formats. So far, more than 40 students have attended remote internship information and resumé/cover letter workshops. In addition, the Experiential Education team has been encouraging partners to seek work-from-home arrangements for students who are currently on a work term. Tech-savvy LA&PS students are already adding real value to businesses and community organizations during this challenging time.
One student, Amin Akhtar, who is on an internship with the Royal Bank of Canada, was pleased to be transitioned with the rest of the company to a work from home arrangement. His manager reports that they “have continued to perform at an outstanding level throughout these uncertain times.”
Programs and departments are also supporting students forced to leave credited placements because of COVID-19. For example, the Field Education Program in Social Work has devised processes to support alternative ways to help students complete their placements and ensure that they can meet the accreditation standards set at the national level. They have conducted Zoom meetings with undergraduate and graduate students to provide reassurance and support.
The Faculty has found multiple ways to connect with colleagues working remotely. Beyond day-to-day work duties, teams across all units have organized daily check-ins, group activities and other ways to stay positive. Colleagues in advising have organized a “team plank” on Zoom every day at 2:50 p.m. and so far, they’ve reached 45 seconds. The group hopes to work up to 60 seconds by the end of the week. Other teams are hosting morning chats, sharing uplifting pictures, or are indulging in “after-work” social activities using Zoom as a way to connect with each other.
Vina Sandher, field work education manager in the School of Social Work, notes some of the positives of the situation. “We feel closer as a team even though we are not physically close right now,” said Sandher. “Somehow this remote contact has really developed a strong bond amongst us that ‘we are all in this together.’”
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