Park tackles challenges of online learning

Alison Overcash, Reporter

On March 12, Park University President Greg Gunderson, Ph.D., announced that all face-to-face and blended classes at the Parkville campus and the Gilbert, Arizona, campus would move online on March 16 for the remainder of the spring semester. On March 16, another announcement from Dr. Gunderson said that all campuses across the country would do the same.

“Although I recognize this decision is disruptive and likely there will be aspects of this approach that don’t address everyone’s individual needs, I hope you will draw comfort from the knowledge that Park is focused to deliver the quality education you expect and our faculty and staff demand while addressing broader public health concerns,” said Dr. Gunderson in the email sent to students, faculty and staff on March 12.

“Park is far better positioned than most schools; our faculty and students are working hard to adapt, we have solid cash reserves, and management is meeting daily to discuss next steps,” said Dr. Gunderson in another email to Park faculty, staff, and students on March 17.

In halting all face-to-face meetings, most courses are now using Canvas. Canvas is the learning management system used by Park University. Canvas provides tools such as discussion boards, chat rooms, private and group messaging, live video conferencing through Zoom, and a mobile app.

“In the event of campus closures such as this, we are very well prepared to move our traditional and blended classrooms to be taught online,” said Jared Flaherty, director of LMS support. “All courses, regardless of instructional modality, have always been provisioned Canvas course sites and Zoom video-conferencing.”

“The majority of our faculty in Parkville, the vast majority, have been teaching online and have been using the Canvas platform for their face-to-face classes,” said Dr. Gunderson. “Curriculum and pedagogy was already written for the vast majority of our classes that are taught here because they were being taught online.”

Dr. Gunderson said that for faculty who are not familiar with teaching online, “We have mentors and others that are working with them to make certain they make the transition.”

“I’m really proud and impressed that our faculty have moved so quickly,” said Dr. Gunderson. “So far, the transition seems to be occurring far more seamlessly than I could have hoped for. Our faculty have really stepped up and our students have as well.”

Additionally, Park University has tried to create resources for faculty members that might be new to online teaching.

“For faculty, we’ve set up a resource hub called “Keep Teaching @ Park” on the Faculty Center for Innovation’s website, innovatepark.org,” said Leslie Umstattd, interim director of digital learning.

Despite the faculty’s willingness to adapt quickly, students still have concerns and find learning is more challenging in the online environment.

“I like the face-to-face interaction better so I can ask questions and get the help I may need,” said junior J’nae Varela, a psychology and social work double major.

Bailey Turner, a communication studies major, agreed.

“I don’t like the fact that we are on online class just because I feel like I do better with face-to-face and teachers are more cooperative that way with answering students’ questions,” said Turner.

Park students have online resources if they begin to struggle or feel lost. The Academic Success Center still offers free tutoring for all students virtually. Students can connect with virtual tutors through the Park Tutoring and Success Services course on Canvas and then meet using Zoom.

The library is also offering services at this time such as electronic reference and research assistance, library instruction via Zoom, online inter-library loan requests, and book delivery by mail, according to library.park.edu/coronavirus.

Administrations in Academic Affairs have encouraged students who are struggling with the changes in their coursework to talk with their instructors. There are academic options, including incomplete contracts, for students who may need accommodations.