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Do colleges with online degree expertise now have an advantage?

Published: Jul. 31, 2020 at 3:23 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - With just weeks until the start of the fall semester, college professors are finalizing their lesson plans. Many of them adjusting to a combination of remote and in-person learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Cat Viglienzoni found out how Champlain College is using its online degree expertise to help them craft their courses.

"My first thought was, 'I'm just going to try to keep them sane,'" said Keith Oppenheim, an associate professor at Champlain College.

That was Oppenheim's reaction when Champlain College announced it was closing campus this spring and switching to online learning. Now, the broadcast journalism associate professor is preparing to teach to both a remote and in-person audience at the same time.

"In my classroom, it's forcing us to rethink how we do just about everything, so it's a big deal," Oppenheim said.

He has colleagues who have decided not to return in person to teach in the fall and is reaching out to his students to see how many plan to come back to campus.

"It has to work for everyone," Oppenheim said.

But even before the pandemic hit, people could get degrees from Champlain College without even setting foot on this campus. That's because they have a whole online learning program. And school officials tell me some of the tools they have from that program are being used to help transition faculty into remote learning.

"It's equitable because then students can access that information when they need it the most," said Rebecca Mills, the director of the Champlain College Center for Learning & Teaching.

Mills says online learning has its strengths. She says some staffers from her office used to work in the online program and they are leveraging that knowledge this summer to work with instructors one-on-one to craft courses. She says their flex hybrid model is different than their traditional online learning because it won't be totally on the students' schedule and there will be set times where classes meet.

"Those moments of interaction become the special part of the weeks," Mills explained.

She says they've been training staff on the technology they'll need to teach to an online audience. And Mills says teachers are rising to the occasion.

"They are approaching it like a wonderful learner. They're really excited about learning something new," Mills said. "So, yeah, I'm having a great time with them."

"One of the lessons we've always taught and but now we're really teaching is work with what you have," Oppenheim said.

He says because his classes are hands-on, remote learners might have to use smartphones to shoot their video if they can't come pick up a camera-- good practice for an industry where they'll have to think on their feet.

"It is teaching coping skills-- that's important," Oppenheim said.

He’ll welcome back students in person and on the screen on August 31.

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