Spring trimester brought global challenges to our classrooms

 

As the world adjusted to the spread of COVID-19, students left for Spring Vacation on March 6 and soon after learned that they would not return to classes on campus for the remainder of the academic year. WMA quickly began the transition from a brick-and-mortar program to a virtual one — Online Distance Learning.

As the world adjusted to the spread of COVID-19, students left for Spring Vacation on March 6 and soon after learned that they would not return to classes on campus for the remainder of the academic year. WMA quickly began the transition from a brick-and-mortar program to a virtual one — Online Distance Learning.

This abrupt transition was no easy feat. This was a novel experience to most faculty and staff, who were also doing this virtually while tending to the needs of their own families during this crisis. The task — to transition the entire educational program online — needed to balance our global population’s needs and capabilities without deviating from the program, lesson plans and curriculum our faculty have worked hard to produce.

The result was successful, to say the least. The transition was spearheaded by the academic Deans of WMA — Kevin Kane (Studies), Erik Kindblom (Academics & Institutional Analysis), Wally Swanson (Faculty) and Stuart Whitcomb (Middle School) — and the Information Technology department of Marxan Pescetta (Director), Josh Bain and John Fonte. Assistance and guidance from the academic department chairs was invaluable as online instruction began March 30, a mere six days later than our scheduled return to classes after Spring Vacation.

The new weekly schedule included a mix of two synchronous (live) and two asynchronous classes per subject through Zoom video conferencing and Google Classroom. Asynchronous classes ranged from tasks like viewing a video to completing a written exercise or reading in addition to regularly scheduled homework. Faculty also made themselves available for extra help in between classes, during free periods and on Wednesdays, the one day during the school week when no synchronous classes were held.

With students from more than 30 countries worldwide, we endured challenges of sharing learning across multiple time zones and hemispheres. Students were given guidelines ranging from a technology checklist to appropriate Zoom and online class etiquette and internet safety to setting up a functional and efficient space for their online learning. One stark change from the typical third trimester of the academic year was the decision to have no formal end-of-year exams (papers and projects could take the place of those).

As a school, WMA also incorporated non-academic programming for our students. From live concerts and hands-on art sessions to workouts, meditation and faculty pet sessions, members of the community were able to participate in as much or as little as they chose while social distancing. Regardless of where our students and faculty are, our learning continues — from all parts of the world.