Navigating the New Normal of Online Learning

College students navigate the new normal

CMC students and faculty are leveraging technology to connect, engage, and learn — at home

Thanks to widespread stay-at-home orders and social distancing, college students and their professors are leaning in to online learning. Though it’s been a challenge, Colorado Mountain College students like Maddie Kellar and her peers are doing their best to adjust to these circumstances and continue on their academic path.

“After four long but short semesters, I will be graduating later this month,” says Maddie, who will be graduating with an Associate degree in Natural Resource Management and an advanced certificate in Geographic Information Systems.

In her final semester at Colorado Mountain College, Maddie is taking twenty-five credits in six classes: American Environmental History, GPS for GIS, Cartography, General College Ecology, Biodiversity and Conservation, and Intro to Soil Science. Though some of her classes were already formatted for a 50/50 online environment, other courses like Biodiversity and Conservation, have a very hands-on aspect difficult to mimic in a virtual classroom.

CMC Biodiversity class zoom chatDr. Monia Haselhorst, Biodiversity and Conservation professor at Colorado Mountain College Leadville, has risen to the challenge. She is finding new ways to leverage technology to connect and check-in with students, while helping the class engage with the course material.

“Monia is a very involved facilitator and participant in the classroom,” says Maddie, who attends class from her home in Colorado’s Front Range, “From day one of my courses, I was both amazed, refreshed, and challenged by the open learning space she was providing all of us.”

Consistent Class Times

Keeping a routine during uncertain times can help infuse a little normalcy in an otherwise chaotic situation. Holding classes at regularly scheduled times provides structure and encourages accountability.

“My students have chosen to continue meeting at the scheduled class time,” says Dr. Haselhorst, “They have really benefited from having synchronous meetings as we did before going fully online.”

At times, online learning can be exhausting and overwhelming, especially while taking six courses during your last college semester. Communication helps. Monia is tapped into her students’ needs and emphasizes maintaining a healthy space for learning. Occasionally arrangements are made for students to engage in individual academic activities with an option to meet live and discuss their findings.

“Regular meetings help my peers and I to check in and connect with one another,” says Maddie, “and also helps to implement structure in a time when it is easy to fall depressed and lose motivation.”

Camera Ready

Having a video component for virtual classes is helpful. The majority of students have their cameras on and audio muted unless they are engaged in a discussion. Students without an available computer or reliable internet have the option to call in for audio participation. Video sessions are recorded and students can access the video after class.

“Team discussions are so much more useful and rewarding when you can see each other in the breakout room,” says Monia.

Monia’s class utilizes Zoom for a variety of reasons, including the ability to have video within smaller group discussions. Being able to see each other and continue to make connections with peers and faculty is helpful, especially during periods of isolation.

How are you feeling today

Ice Breaker Poll & Introductions

Class kicks off with a poll question, like, ‘How are you feeling today?’. Monia uses to gather anonymous text responses from students. A word cloud populates on her shared screen based on responses—and yes, emojis are acceptable answers.

How are you feeling today college wordcloud“At the beginning of every class, we all discuss how we are doing and at the end of each class, we all take time to personally reflect and then to share with each other,” says Maddie, “Monia encourages us all to consistently check in with our feelings about what we are learning, how we are learning, and everything else going on in our lives that contributes to our academic experience.”

Small class sizes at CMC allow each student to connect as individuals, even in a virtual classroom.

“Quarantine has brought out some of the best and worst in all of us,” reflects Maddie, “It is nice to be able to share and connect with my peers in this constructive environment, even if it is online.”

Breakout Discussions & Collaboration

“When meeting live online, we usually have a discussion or other activities planned for the class period,” says Maddie, “Often we will have student-led discussions or talk about the textbook reading for the week.”

Padlet in cmc class zoom meetingClass is broken up into breakout sessions, smaller groups within the class assigned to discuss and explore a specific topic. Monia pops into these smaller breakout rooms to check-in and foster student discussion.

“Monia often spices up our meeting with other software like Padlet where we can all add our comments, photos, and videos to a page simultaneously and remotely,” says Maddie, “At the end of every week since switching to online, we have started using Padlet to each share a photo that inspired us in these strange times”.

Behind each screen and discussion forum post is a college student or instructor doing their best to adjust to distance learning. Finding ways to leverage technology and tools to enhance the learning experience is making the transition easier for all members of the CMC community.