Shifting business: Responding to COVID-19

April 23, 2020

How long does it take to shift the way you do business? Turns out about eight days. The migration to virtual instruction could not have gone smoother thanks to the work of our faculty and various teams.

Administration announced the decision to hold classes virtually on March 10. Led by Department Chair, Kendall Lamkey priorities were established, action steps were outlined and communicated.

This semester Agronomy is teaching 52 classes from freshman classes through graduate level. Since each professor was leading the charge for converting their classes, the focus became supporting them as they dug into all the options.

But the entire world, not just education, was in the process of transitioning to virtual. The infrastructure was about to be tested. Were we about to break the internet?

Fortunately, Agronomy is no stranger to online education. For over 20 years the Masters of Science in Agronomy has been offering online advanced degrees. The nuts and bolts of the virtual class infrastructure is the responsibility of the Agronomy Development Lab. Andy Rohrback is a developer handling the programming. Tyler Price is an instructional support specialist and Canvas expert. Glenn Weidenhoeft focuses on exams and quizzes.

“You’d think working in online education every day we’d be able to pick this up without a second thought,” said Tyler Price. “The delivery method of the MS Agronomy program is very different. Even we were scrambling to learn the ins and outs of all of the options Faculty had to choose from.”

Our faculty teamed up with our Development Lab and dove in head first. The Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching provided critical guidance, resources and tools. The Development Lab scheduled webinars every day to disseminate current information quickly as recommendations changed. Eight days stretched into nine as they offered a webinar on Saturday.

Today our faculty and Development Lab still come together once a week to discuss best practice, recommendations and answer questions. Faculty have stepped up to help each other. Amber Anderson, assistant teaching professor helped Dr. Lee Burras start Canvas courses for his classes.

“Amber is an invaluable and amazing colleague,” said Dr. Burras. “I cannot say enough good things about her and all she does for Agronomy. Amber got me up to speed – or at least up to a level – where I am successfully using Canvas. I am amazed and thankful that in under 2 hours she was able to teach me the logic and organization of Canvas in a manner that works for me while also making sure my Canvas shell had everything properly working.”

As more information poured in, a page was quickly set up to house the most up-to-date information from all of the various locations across campus. It became a one stop shop for Agronomy faculty, staff and students. From how to contact support staff working from home to cancellations to business operations, research implications and a robust teaching and advising section. 

“I’m so proud of our faculty and staff,” said Dr. Kendall Lamkey, department chair. “They came together to tackle this unprecedented event head on. It was a complete success. I think we’re all surprised at how smoothly it went – a testament to their problem solving and hard work.”

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