Cindy Gallatin and Christine Shakespeare: College, COVID and creative use of technology

Like many colleges and universities, the University of New Haven responded quickly and smartly to COVID-19, assembling a campus-wide task force to manage our multi-faceted operation. While no one anticipated a global pandemic of this length and intensity, the university drew on its legacy of preparedness and culture of collaboration to quickly pivot to a virtual campus. Nearly every aspect of campus life was impacted. The processes we implemented proved effective and will serve the university well for any future disruption.

Healthcare Protocols

Initially, all members of the community moved off-campus and to remote teaching and learning. To comply with state and federal guidelines, university leadership worked with a state-organized higher education task force to share information and best practices.

When it became apparent that students, faculty and staff might be returning to campus during the summer and the fall, classrooms and other public spaces were modified to meet social distancing guidelines. New protocols for residence halls were established, and the university prepared to use additional space in hotels and other facilities to quarantine and isolate students. Strict testing protocols were implemented for the safest possible environment.

Teaching and Learning

Many modifications were made to move to completely remote learning in spring 2020, while not compromising academic quality and integrity. Students needing technology for online classes were loaned laptops. Faculty were provided resources for teaching and learning in a new, high-tech modality. All materials were moved to a digital format and all assessments were conducted remotely.

During summer 2020, major preparations were made for a fall that would include a mixture of on-campus, online, and hybrid modalities. Improvements in classroom technology and campus-wide Wi-Fi capacity would allow for concurrent in-class and remote learning. A new learning management system was acquired to enhance digital content and optimize course delivery. Extensive training programs enhanced faculty skills with online learning and new technologies.

Services for Students

During spring 2020, decisions were made to pause all athletics, bring students back from study abroad, and commencement became a virtual ceremony. The university contingency-planned for either an in-person or a primarily virtual fall semester, even if students were in residence. Safely preserving as much of the typical college experience, even during this pandemic, was paramount. All student services were provided online, including registration, bursar, tutoring, Library access, accommodating different abilities, or learning how to use new technologies. Students met with advisors virtually to maintain their academic progress. The university’s overriding goal was to always meet the needs of students and faculty whose lives were being turned upside down.

Academics

Modifications to academic policies were instituted to address students’ stress of living and learning in a pandemic, giving them more time to complete assignments, the result of deliberate and compassionate decisions by the entire faculty who met regularly online to respond proactively to student needs. Faculty met more frequently than usual, demonstrating their commitment to the university community.

Summary

Despite the many modifications made to respond to the pandemic, the University of New Haven continued to maintain a sense of community among students, faculty, and staff with an entrepreneurial spirit in the face of an unprecedented situation. Frequent communication became a key component of our success and will be a necessary ingredient for future pandemic preparation. University leadership made swift, important decisions, engaging the entire community and setting a tone of confidence that the university could thrive despite the crisis. Communication and compassion - and the creative use of technology - are the tools for the future. Most importantly, we accomplished all this safely.

This column was prepared by Cindy Gallatin, Chief of Digital Learning, and Christine Shakespeare, vice provost for policy & coordination, University of New Haven