FMCC summer courses to be taught remotely

JOHNSTOWN — All classes at Fulton-Montgomery Community College transitioned to remote instruction midway through the spring semester beginning on April 1 due to the coronavirus outbreak. Now college officials say all courses for the summer semester will be taught remotely following guidance from the State University of New York while FMCC waits for further instructions on how to plan for the fall semester.

Acting President Greg Truckenmiller reported to the Board of Trustees during Thursday’s meeting conducted by teleconference that the college had made adjustments to the summer course schedule to prepare for the session to be conducted entirely remotely this year following guidance from SUNY.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier Thursday announced the extension of the state stay at home order through at least May 15 to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which Truckenmiller noted would be in place beyond the end of the current spring semester with final exams concluding on May 8.

The summer session that begins on May 26 will be extended this year with classes that normally meet for eight weeks now scheduled to meet remotely for 10 weeks. SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson is expected to provide guidance to colleges on how to plan to deliver instruction during the fall semester in the coming weeks, Truckenmiller noted.

“What we are being encouraged to do is to have a contingency plan,” he added.

Normally colleges must receive approval for individual programs before they can be delivered remotely, but Truckenmiller said SUNY worked with the state Education Department to secure waivers for program approval for the spring and summer semesters this year with an additional waiver likely to be issued for the fall.

“What we heard tonight on the call with the chancellor is they’re likely to waive that for the fall semester just because they’re uncertain of when things are going to begin to reopen,” said Truckenmiller.

Truckenmiller commended the efforts of college administrators who oversaw the transition to remote instruction mid-stream and to faculty members who navigated the sudden change while the campus remains closed to all non-essential personnel due to the coronavirus.

“It’s been really gratifying to see the dedication and effort that faculty have put into this transition. It’s taken a crisis and made the best of it. I want the board to be aware of this and I want the public to be aware of the hard work that our faculty has put into this. It’s not easy and it’s not what everybody wanted, but it is what we are doing consistent with what everyone else is doing,” said Truckenmiller.

FMCC formed a task force to lead the transition headed by Acting Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Diana Putnam along with Associate Professor of Computer Science Marty Waffle, Assistant Professor of Business Mark Swain, Systems/Application Technology Coordinator Denise Passero, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Jacqueline Snyder and Assistant Professor of Business Technology Applications Charlene Dybas.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the hard work of Diana and that group of faculty,” said Truckenmiller.

“I want to join Greg in thanking all of the faculty,” said Putnam. “It’s been a tremendous amount of hours during what was spring break, where we initially thought we were going to have some more training planned on campus and then needed to shut down after March 13. Everything from that point was virtual and within less than a two-week period they had to reconstruct their courses in an environment that about half of the faculty weren’t entirely familiar with.”

Of approximately 270 courses taking place during the spring semester, Putnam said about 240 were being taught entirely on campus. Among roughly 78 faculty members, Putnam said about 40 members needed complete training to prepare to utilize online instructional tools while another six faculty members needed some guidance or support.

Putnam said the transition task force developed an instructional model for faculty members to follow to provide consistent instruction across all courses that would also ensure faculty members would be able to step in to provide assistance and troubleshooting if needed.

“If you follow this structure, if you follow this guidance as far as the basic tools to use, you’ll be safe and the team supporting you will be able to help,” said Putnam. “The process worked extremely well.”

The task force also provided training to faculty members on an ongoing basis through virtual meetings. Additionally, Putnam said roughly 30 faculty members on campus who were already well versed in remote instructional tools volunteered to serve as mentors for the remaining faculty members making the transition for the first time.

“In addition to teaching their own courses they are providing one-on-one support for other faculty members,” said Putnam.

Faculty members were also asked to communicate with students before the transition to remote instruction rolled out to prepare them for the transition and to promote retention during the change.

Now Putnam said the task force is working to redevelop the framework that will be provided to faculty members to provide more in-depth tools to structure their courses around ahead of the summer session with additional training to be provided.

“It’s one thing to finish a semester in a remote environment, it’s another to completely conduct a semester in a remote environment, especially in a condensed summer session, so we’re going to step up efforts in terms of training even in a more comprehensive way,” said Putnam, noting the task force will prepare the structure while keeping in mind the possible need to reshape this year’s fall semester.

Board of Trustees Chair Ryan Weitz thanked Putnam for her leadership during the transition and commended the hard work of all faculty and staff members to make the sudden transition to providing remote instruction for students.

“It really has been a gargantuan task to do this with no heads up and really without being able to triage it on campus, so it’s quite amazing that it’s able to occur and we’re able to get on to a completely remote learning session midway through a semester,” said Weitz.

By Kerry Minor

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