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April 23, 2020
How can students without access to technology or the internet continue their courses when everything has suddenly shifted to an online environment? Faculty and staff at Piedmont Technical College (PTC) responded to this question in an unprecedented way to help students continue their coursework during the recent transition to a virtual teaching and learning environment.
“We went to all the county campuses and looked into the laptop pools normally available for students to check out while on campus,” said Eric Hawthorne, PTC director of information technology support. “We also pulled some from our administrative stores, in all collecting 90-plus laptops that weren’t being used. Then we worked to equip them for student use.”
Because some students don’t have laptops or internet, Hawthorne’s team decided to take the sign-out program to another level by pre-loading the college’s D2L system courses directly onto the laptops so that students without internet connectivity could receive content without going online.
“Academic Affairs staff worked tirelessly for several days to download content from D2L so we could store it locally on the laptops for students who don’t have adequate access to the internet,” Hawthorne explained. “The short amount of time it took to scale all this up was amazing. Within a week we were able to acquire those laptops, equip them, and make them ready for distribution. Less than a week. That’s incredible.”
Dr. Keli Fewox, PTC vice president for academic affairs, noted that faculty reached out to students enrolled in their courses to identify those who might need assistance. Then the IT Department set up a ticketing system to track requests and distribution.
“Our faculty and staff have basically moved an entire college online in about a week,” she said. “We have been able to do that seamlessly.”
As faculty and staff have increased their use of online conferencing software such as MS Teams and WebEx, the IT Department has worked to utilize some of the same technologies to ensure social distancing for students checking out laptops.
“We are using WebEx for students to pick up and check out laptops,” Hawthorne said. A table is set up outside Systems Support Technician Sid Emory’s office on the Lex Walters Campus-Greenwood. On the table is the laptop being picked up as well as an open laptop and web camera standing in for Sid. “As they appear to pick up their laptops, Sid communicates with students via the open laptop screen. He is able to interact with students, answer questions and give instructions remotely while they sign out their computer. It’s a completely touch-free process.”
Fewox acknowledged that the entire transition to virtual instruction has presented challenges but also yielded opportunities to try new things and meet students where they are.
“It’s not scripted. We can adapt things as needed,” Fewox said. “I just think that is who we are as a college. That is just the way we do business here at PTC.”