Virtual Learning Powers Through Pandemic, Hurricane
In 25 years of teaching at Lamar State College Orange, Kevin Doss has a lot of experience in the changing landscape of higher education.
And because LSCO sits on the water of the Gulf coast, he’s also experienced his fair share of hurricanes and evacuations.
Despite all of this familiarity with teaching and storms, nothing prepared him to have to hold his lecture class from his car in the middle of a Category 2 hurricane.
But it’s 2020 – a year that seems to throw out new uncertainties every few weeks.
“Bring it on,” Doss said with a chuckle.
Lecturing from his Chevy Equinox wasn’t his plan, but when Hurricane Laura barreled toward Southeast Texas in late August, Doss evacuated to Pensacola, Florida. When LSCO classes resumed after the storm, he was able to stay in Florida because all of his classes this semester are online.
With online classes, instructors typically upload lectures, presentations, and assignments to Blackboard, LSCO’s online learning platform. Students watch the lectures and presentations, and complete and turn in the coursework online at their own schedule and pace. One of Doss’ classes this semester is a pilot course using a Blackboard capability he’s calling Visual Learning Live. Through this method, Doss and two other LSCO instructors participating in the pilot program, hold their lectures live with the students watching from their own devices, allowing full interaction just like they would in a regular classroom.
“Instead of a regular online class, now you have the opportunity to watch an instructor give lecture and ask questions live. It’s a face-to-face class through a computer screen,” Doss said. “It gives flexibility in schedules and is a great alternative because you get your professor live during the time the actual class meets.”
And in this case, Doss’ students got to meet in class with their professor live during a hurricane.
“Hurricane Sally hit right on the border of Alabama and Florida, as a Category 2 storm. The eye went right over us from 4:30 am to 7:30 am and I knew I had to lecture at 12:30 that afternoon. I wasn’t sure if I would have internet access or WiFi because of the storm,” he said. “Thankfully I paid a little extra when I bought my car for the added hotspot so I was able to log into class on my phone through my car and I lectured for the full hour and 15 minutes with 40-50 mph winds from the south side of Sally.”
Dr. Ni Song hasn’t had to teach her Visual Learning Live Anatomy and Physiology course through a hurricane, but still said the new technology is exciting and she’s had success with it.
“I’m excited to try this and the tools I’ve never tried before,” she said. “It’s just like being in a classroom, but it’s all virtual.”
Doss said the technology is like something shown on The Jetson’s, the futuristic cartoon show. While it’s been helpful during hurricane season, the live virtual classes are also incredibly useful for students who cannot come to class on campus during the pandemic.
“That’s the fascinating thing about this – there have been so many new things this semester. If anything, the storms and the pandemic have pushed us to look into the future and to use technology to provide education,” Doss said. “I’m thankful that we have progressed and provided training into this technology and computer resources.”
George Scarborough is also teaching a virtual live course in the math department.