No one could have anticipated the quantum leap digital education would take in spring 2020, when COVID-19 challenged campuses to move classes online. The timing was sudden: in just two and one-half weeks, IU converted some 14,000 sections of face-to-face classes to remote delivery, a migration that under "normal" circumstances could have taken years of gradual adoption.
How did IU do it? As far back as 2013, IU had made online education an integrated part of its academic operations. Relying on expertise that extended as far back as 25 years in some departments, we had built, over a period of five years, a solid foundation of online education across the university.
This heritage gave us a head start when the pandemic struck. At the start of the spring semester, 32,794 students, or 37.4 percent of the IU population, were already taking at least one online course. Forty-five percent of full-time faculty and 25 percent of part-time faculty were engaged in online teaching; and online resources like Canvas, Zoom, and Kaltura already played a role in many, if not most, face-to-face classes.
As a result, many faculty and staff across the university already had the experience, resources, and technology they needed. Moreover, they shared a collaborative spirit, no small factor in a multi-campus environment. Together, the university's campuses, schools, departments, support services, and countless individual faculty came together to pull off a monumental achievement, allowing a surge of students "to go online" and stay safe in the face of the pandemic.
Students were able to access a robust virtual support system with helpful instructions and resources. The Keep Learning website was home base for the fundamentals of online learning, while IU Online modules at IU Expand provided more in-depth information. The IU Online Test Drive module gave students new to online learning the opportunity to sample a variety of online courses. The Onboarding module walked students through using Canvas and serves as a model for building virtual orientation programs for future on-campus students. And the Keep Learning at IU module provided tips for communicating with instructors and classmates, finding course materials, attending lectures, completing assignments and taking tests, and working together in groups.
As we transitioned into online summer coursework, OOE, OCAP, eDS and teaching centers provided additional support. Wraparound student services were available to students during high-volume times and outside of normal operating hours. Services included financial aid and money-management advising, success coaching, math and writing tutoring, and career coaching. In addition, IU Online's Classes Search Tool—searchable by semester, campus, subject, school, and degree level—helped students, staff, and faculty alike find online classes.
The university had to be efficient and clear in helping to steer the university through this challenge. We pointed campuses to official information, tech support, individual faculty expertise, and webinars. A great example of this was the Keep Teaching at Indiana University website maintained by UITS, which provided suggestions for wrapping up the spring semester, as well as resources for teaching during summer, including a customizable Canvas template and ideas for using common Canvas tools.
Looking ahead, the fall semester won't look like the spring semester. Online coursework will be a larger proportion of our educational experience, making fall a fertile time for discovery as we explore such topics as optimizing faculty time with students and replicating hands-on lab experiences. We'll observe, listen, experiment, and learn so we can reach and engage new audiences and continue to help the university achieve its mission, both now and in the future.
It's been an honor to be part of meeting this challenge. It's clear from recent surveys and reports about student experiences this spring that faculty and staff made a difference by lending a caring voice, a note of encouragement, or an acknowledgement that their own lives had also been upended. Without a doubt, caring for our students and delivering a quality educational experience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic was an immense challenge, but I'm very thankful for the commitment and excellence the university community brought to the table. Thank you for being an integral part of IU's success!
Chris J. Foley