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Nexus Ramps Up Support Amid Transition to Remote Learning

With COVID-19 shuttering campuses and shifting life across the country, remote learning has become the new reality for academic institutions everywhere. In a matter of weeks, faculty and students have been forced to adopt new technologies and learning modes smack in the middle of the semester, often with little experience to fall back on. For Nexus — University of Michigan Engineering's home for online education — that's meant ramping up support in a time of sudden need.

"Moving hundreds of in-person courses to remote learning in four days is a tremendous challenge requiring a College-wide team effort," Diane Landsiedel, Nexus' Executive Director, says. "I applaud many, many faculty and staff who rose up to meet this challenge."

As the implications of COVID-19 continue to evolve, so has Nexus' approach to serving faculty and learners. On March 6th, before most colleges and universities closed their campuses, Nexus' Director of Online Innovation, Shubha Kashyap, moderated the first of three Online Learning Consortium webinars focused on maintaining instructional continuity in the face of unanticipated events. Over 600 attendees from across North America tuned in as Kashyap and a panel of fellow experts discussed how best to organize teams, leverage resources, develop rapid response plans, and scale online learning tools in the face of unexpected closures.

"The idea behind the webinar started off as a pulse check to begin getting a sense for how many online education colleagues were handling contingency planning and support requests," Kashyap says. "We quickly realized that everyone was looking for a common landing spot to discuss the topic and share ideas."

Soon after the University of Michigan (U-M) announced it was moving classes to remote delivery, Nexus administered a faculty needs survey and collaborated with CAEN, the College of Engineering's IT services department, to offer remote teaching consultations at U-M's Chrysler Center. The March drop-in sessions — which included weekend hours — were designed to connect faculty with the College's breadth of resources, expertise, and support for distance learning.

Now, with most everyone working from home, that support has extended remotely.

As Remote Learning Takes Center Stage, Nexus Ramps Up Support

"In addition to providing resources through a new COVID-19 centralized resource website, we continue to assist faculty and students with personalized consultations, daily virtual office hours, and via a hotline," Landsiedel says.

Offered seven days a week, the office hours are intended to provide faculty with a consistent forum to ask questions and receive ongoing assistance. Faculty can dial in to speak directly with professionals from Nexus' IT staff and Design & Innovation Group, who have expertise in instructional design, video production, Canvas support, and online pedagogy.

Nexus has also partnered with collaborators throughout the College to share best practices on key remote teaching topics. On March 20th, for example, Kashyap joined Pat Hammett, PhD (Nexus' Director of Faculty Innovation) and George Sprague (Assistant Director of the Office of Retention and Academic Support Services) for an information session and tutorial about adapting delivery styles and pedagogy to administer remote exams while aligning with the College of Engineering's Honor Code. The recorded session and supporting materials were distributed to the faculty as a resource through this time of transition.

In like manner, Nexus is working with non-credit faculty and learners to develop remote options that match — or even exceed — the in-person professional education experience, which is often hands-on and collaborative.

"Because the COVID-19 outbreak happened so unexpectedly, no one had the time to plan, prepare, or train faculty to teach remotely," Landsiedel says. "Yet we adjusted and are now on the path from emergency remote teaching and learning to remote teaching and learning with higher quality expectations."

To stay on that path, providing flexible support and effective learning solutions will continue to be crucial — especially considering the uncertain nature of this crisis. And Nexus remains up for the challenge.

"By continuing to teach and learn in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, the College has shown its true mettle," Landsiedel says. "Designing courses that incorporate the best practices of both in-person and online learning and teaching is a great opportunity to grow and improve engineering education for the common good."