Going Virtual from an Academic Viewpoint with WAU Provost, Cheryl Kisunzu

Written by: IMC Department

On Saturday, August 2, the Montgomery County Public Health Department made an official announcement that face to face instruction in Montgomery County at private schools must not occur due to the increased numbers of COVID-19 positive tests. Though it was difficult, WAU had to swiftly respond to the county directives — Up until that time, WAU’s position was to have on Campus face to face instruction exclusively with the parallel option for students who could not come back on campus to attend their distance learning virtual classrooms.

The shift by Montgomery county was a mandate that WAU had to follow, as well as every other institution of higher ed in Montgomery County and the surrounding areas, this includes Montgomery County College, University of Maryland, University of Maryland Shady Grove, Howard, Maryland Independent College & University, Johns Hopkins (who is the Center for the CDC positions) and more. Given this regional concern for the safety of WAU students, and based on the Montgomery County health official’s directives, WAU had to shift to virtual learning.

Academic View

Academically, this means that classes for the fall semester will continue to be offered through the distance learning platform and virtual classrooms — synchronous (at their scheduled times) attendance will be taken and hybrid options for course completion. For the courses that require face to face, each faculty member will have the opportunity to let the students in those respective classes know their options. Included in those classes will be all of the lectures offered through the distance learning virtual classroom as well. 

“It is really important that we understand the term ‘virtual classroom’. It means that at the same time on the schedule and on the same day, is when your class will meet in the virtual classroom. This is very different from some schools that have an asynchronous option which says ‘this is a class, do it whenever, and you’ll get these credits’. But for our students, we find that that engagement is crucial. So we’re having synchronous virtual classrooms that are the same day and same time throughout the semester (with some exceptions for hybrid on-site with which is reserved for essential skills).”

Programming and Technology

In terms of programming and technology, faculty members are receiving an opportunity to have the educational version of zoom and or go to meetings for the classroom sessions. D2L will still be used for the posting of the syllabus and submitting course assignments. To make sure that there’s no interruption in the lecture, these resources for the educational institutions are called premium sites with premium licenses that are purchased for the students. 

Faculty are involved in required training sessions specific to online learning. Every faculty member is required to go through these sessions. And our commitment is to make sure that the learning seeds can still be planted that would have happened face to face. 

It is a rigorous job to ensure maximum engagement virtually, but WAU is committed to making sure that the nation’s capital learning is a theme throughout the online learning work. Online classes are in no way cheaper. The same energy and greater engagement on faculty to create a distinctive learning experience are required at a higher standard of engagement and nothing less will do. So therefore there are no refunds on tuition. WAU Faculty are expected to make this virtual experience worth the time, effort, and adjustment. Even though students are not able to physically go, we’re committed to the integration of faith and learning to make sure that the student learning outcomes are met and exceeded.

 “I know this is difficult. It is not what any of us had planned for. We believe that resilient and competent moral leaders are an essential attribute, which students will leverage throughout their career. It doesn’t taste good right now. But together, we’re going to add the flavor. They’re learning on this journey, who they will become during this experience, and this is why we choose to serve them here, and we will not disappoint them. Together with our spirit of community, we will create learning opportunities that strengthen students to be the leaders that they are called to be.”

At any point in time, students can email Dr. Kisunzu at provost@wau.edu for any concerns or feedback on this academic experience. “We will work through this together and we will be stronger through it.”

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