Chair of the Department of Humanities Kathy Locey, right, helps a student with sign out and fall registration on Friday, March 13.
Chair of the Department of Humanities Kathy Locey, right, helps Brenau student Kayland Thomason with sign out and fall registration on Friday, March 13. Brenau students started the remainder of their semester online on Monday, March 23. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Online courses and support off to a good start

Mar 23, 2020
Kristen Bowman

Brenau University coursework and support officially moved to an online platform on Monday, March 23, and faculty and students said the transition was going well.

University officials made the decision to move to online learning and support out of an abundance of caution in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) worldwide pandemic. 

“Last week our staff colleagues were working hard to support our students on campus as they moved off campus and arrived home, while continuing to focus on our online students,” said Brenau President Anne Skleder. “Faculty, likewise, were hard at work using their creativity, innovation and flexibility to recast this semester into an online semester. That’s not easy to do, and I’m so appreciative of what they’re doing.”

Senior fashion design major Jordyn De La Rosa said online classes are going well so far.

“My teachers have been very communicative to me and my other classmates on what our immediate game plan is,” she said. “They have been very open to us that we are essentially just taking this week by week, which is something that I greatly appreciate as they are giving us grace as students to adjust, and we are giving them grace to adjust as professors considering no one does training for this sort of pandemic.”

Senior communication major Cairis Barron said the transition has been more difficult than she expected, but not terribly challenging because of her major.

“The only challenge has been switching over so quickly,” she explained. “I have taken several online classes during my time at Brenau, but never all at once. I am finding I have to be a lot more intentional with scheduling time to get work done. I appreciate what my teachers have been doing to make this a smooth transition, and it helps that I can still video chat with my class.”

De La Rosa said the biggest challenge for her is the hands-on nature of her major. She has two large projects that will be difficult — though not impossible — to complete from home: a collection of three women’s ready-to-wear looks that she designs, patterns and sews, and her senior capstone, a documentary about people’s perspective on creativity.

“I am someone who needs and craves organization and structure,” she said. “So far I have created a new to-do list and calendar in order to better manage my assignments/projects, as well as time-blocking my day to keep myself organized and on track.”

To support students with the transition, the Provost’s Office and Brenau IT built a Student Guide to Online Learning and Support. The guide shares helpful tips and answers questions including “What if I don’t have internet access?” and “How can I access library materials?” All on-ground services, including those in the Trustee Library, Writing Center and Math SPA are now offering the same student support online.

“As soon as we learned the potential need existed to move all our coursework online, we began compiling and developing resources to support our faculty and students,” said Emily Zank, assistant vice president for academic affairs. “With Brenau’s long history of offering online coursework, we knew we had the tools, but we also knew some faculty and students wouldn’t feel confident abruptly transitioning to the online platform. We wanted to create a one-stop resource that could help support their various needs. Especially with the stress brought on by the pandemic distracting everyone, we wanted to comfort our students so they can continue progress toward their degrees.”

Brenau uses Canvas, an online dashboard that allows for virtual classroom discussion, test administration, project submission and much more. Each professor may have a slightly different approach to the use of Canvas, according to instructional designer Mary Johnson, depending on his or her preferred teaching methods and styles.

“One of the great things about our school is the sense of family between all of those who make up the Brenau community,” Johnson said. “Part of being in this community is supporting one another, and this is a perfect example of how Brenau comes together in times of crisis. On a personal level, I see our students as my sole reason for being here and I want to make sure that if there is anything that I can do to help them be more successful, it gets done.”

Skleder said she credits Brenau faculty, staff and students for their nimbleness and support of one another throughout this process.

“I’m very grateful for the empathy and compassion being shown to our students,” Skleder said. “For them, this is an unprecedented situation, and while it is for us too, this is the first major situation like this that they’re having to deal with. It changes the nature of their life and education at a relatively young age, and I’m grateful for the support being shown to them during this time.”