South view of the quad

The Illinois State University spring 2020 semester was moving along so well—then the coronavirus changed everything. ISU extended spring break by one week so faculty could—to the best of their abilities—move their classes online. The governor of Illinois issued a statewide “shelter in place” order. ISU also closed the campus to everyone except essential personnel. Students, faculty, and staff work from home.  

It’s not been easy, but it’s been for the greater good. Everyone understands well what is at stake. As it’s been said so often and is so true: We’re all in this together. And together we shall persevere. Along the way, if people need an outlet for emotional, intellectual, or social help, there are resources for faculty and staff and for students 

The University, through the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT), made resources available to all faculty to help them move their classes online. Experience in online teaching spans the spectrum of expertise, and those with much experience often have been willing and available to help anyone who needs it. CTLT also made resources available to all students to help them in their learning and accessing their classes online.  

The School of Communication assembled a small group of faculty who have been willing to help fellow COM faculty with their online teaching needs and questions. The School has been using Microsoft Teams to share information and ideas widely among COM faculty and staff. For its classes, the School of Communication has had particular challenges to address:  

  • COM Week was canceled. It was scheduled to run during the week of April 6, and a complete program was set and ready to go, thanks to the very hard and dedicated work of the student interns on the School’s Promotions and Development Team and their leaders, Denise Thomas, the School’s business manager, and Tom Lamonica.  
  • All radio, television/video, and newspaper labs were closed, which affected WZND and TV-10 programming as well as operations at The Vidette. But the lab closures did not stop programming or news reporting, as students have created reports from home and uploaded them to their respective websites and social media. Computing labs, including the Social Media Analytics Command Center (SMACC) and the Communication Innovation Center (CIC), were also closed.  
  • WGLT and WCBU, as essential community organizations under the governor’s order, have continued operations with a number of staff working remotely.  
  • Academic advising has been held using Zoom for streaming-video meetings between undergraduate students and the School’s academic advisors. Graduate students needing advising have used email, Zoom, and phone. 
  • COM 110 classes have been revised accordingly to work online in consistent ways across all sections of the course with all instructors 
  • Master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation defenses have been held over Zoom with students and their committee members. The same approach has been used for defenses of thesis and dissertation proposals. 
  • Internships have continued at organizations that still allow students to complete their internships, which, depending on the kind of organization, can be on-site or at home.  
  • Teaching technology needs were met as faculty requested them, including hardware and software that they need at home to lead their classes online. 
  • School personnel worked with Administrative Technologies staff to ensure that students who needed a laptop to learn away from campus received one.
  • Meetings among faculty and staff have been held using Zoom, including a meeting with all faculty and staff in the School. Some COM folks have held virtual happy hours and other online social gatherings, which help maintain relationships with one another. 

For the balance of the spring semester, COM’s classes online vary in their use of digital resources, based on instructors’ course content, learning objectives, and personal preferences in using technology to facilitate their teaching and student learning. All courses in the University must use ReggieNet, which is ISU’s course management system. Instructors may choose to use additional online sources in their classes as they wish as part of the content accessible on ReggieNet 

ISU President Larry Dietz announced that all classes for the summer 2020 session will be online. For the School of Communication, nearly all classes for summer sessions over recent years have been online—only COM 110 sections have not been led online. Dr. John Hooker and Dr. Cheri Simonds are working on the online course design together with the graduate teaching assistants assigned to lead the classes.  

As for fall classes, more information will be forthcoming from Illinois State leadership. Updates about how ISU is managing the impacts of the coronavirus are available on the University’s special webpage 

At least one thing has become abundantly clear: Faculty and staff in the School of Communication are remarkably talented, innovative, and committed to have made the unexpected shift from on-campus to all-online classes. The lessons learned at the levels of individuals, the School, and the institution are many and tremendously important.  

In many ways, the experiences during this crisis have enlightened so many of us in the School and at ISU to not only how strong we really are, but how much stronger we truly can be by applying the lessons learned, the experiences had, and the thinking about the future for teaching and learning.