CIRB sees big leap in e-learning as pandemic complicates lives for many students
WARWICK – When the pandemic struck, the Community College of Rhode Island had a choice: shut the institution down for the duration or find a way to move more than 2,400 online courses.
The college decided to make distance learning work, despite the fact that only 40% of its professors were comfortable with an online teaching platform.
The experience has changed the way students learn at CIRB, where the average student is 25, has a job, and in some cases raises children.
As of fall 2019, 21% of students were enrolled in at least one online course; only 5% were registered exclusively online.
This fall, 66% of students are enrolled in at least one online course and 34% are exclusively online.
âThe pandemic has been the biggest crisis this college has faced in 60 years,â said CIRB President Meghan Hughes. âThis has led us to double our efforts to serve the communities hardest hit by the pandemic and gain equitable access. ”
For 19-year-old Talia Thibodeau, a recent graduate from Cranston West, online learning has been a lifeline. Although she set her sights on Stonehill College, where she was offered a scholarship, COVID made her rethink those plans.
After a CIRB basketball coach contacted her, Thibodeau decided to give college a try. She started there last fall.
âI was totally online my first year,â she said. âThis year I’m taking an online course. I work as a full time nanny. And I have basketball training on top of that. I knew I would be extremely busy. “
Thibodeau, who wishes to pursue a bachelor’s degree in sports communication, has taken courses at his own pace, according to his schedule. Saying she is extremely motivated, she understands that this format would not work for everyone.
His teachers were very accommodating. Each week when her class started a new chapter, they emailed or registered to see how their students were doing.
The CCRI, with nearly 12,000 students, also offers its students synchronous learning, where you zoom in on a class in real time.
âOnline learning is so flexible and gives you the flexibility to choose,â she said. âIt was a great experience overall. ”
Why the CIRB was the last RI college to return to face-to-face classes
The CIRB was the only college in Rhode Island not to return in person until this fall. There are several reasons for this.
First, the college offered intensive training for teachers, setting up an online program in two weeks. Second, the college bought hundreds of laptops for students and offered technology grants to help students buy theirs.
âIt wasn’t glamorous,â said Sara Enright, vice president of student affairs, of the sudden switch to distance education. âIt looked like people from the university were running away with laptops in student cars.
The CIRB also understood the needs of its student body. It is a suburban campus with many first generation students. COVID amplified the challenges these students initially faced.
âCOVID has had a disproportionate impact on our students,â Enright said. âOur families have been hit hardest by COVID infections. If your job is on the front line, you cannot work from home. Food insecurity, job insecurity, all disproportionately affect low-income people of color. ”
From a difficult start to growing confidence
Ana Gomez is a mother of two who came here from the Dominican Republic eight years ago and lives in Woonsocket. Her initial experience with distance learning was difficult. This is his second year at the CIRB.
âWhen I started, I felt like I needed to have a master’s degree in computer science,â she said. âI had to do a lot of things on the computer that I didn’t know how to do. I had to find someone to help me.
In one class, she didn’t know she could retake the tests; this detracted from his rating.
This semester, she feels more confident.
âI saw that I was able to make my own schedule,â Gomez said. âI have two children and I work full time. I go to school after my kids go to bed.
Lack of contact with professors and other students
Still, Gomez misses seeing his teachers in person. Raising a hand is easier than sending an email, and she doesn’t want to burden her teachers with too many questions.
Gomez said there is only one teacher, Maryhelen D. MacInnes, who checks her every week, for which she is very grateful. The others send him his homework online.
“I really wish they would check in more often and say, ‘Hey, is there anything I can do to help you? Â»Â», She declared. âThis sociology professor gives me 30 more minutes for the tests. This is my first time taking a course and someone wants to ask me about translation apps.
Gomez, who is 31, has a demanding schedule. She starts her classwork after her children go to bed, sometimes after 9 p.m., and works until midnight. Sometimes she gets up at dawn to finish her work.
Still, Gomez misses the camaraderie that comes from sitting in a class with other students or having coffee with classmates.
Yet without a remote schedule, she admits that continuing her studies at university would have been nearly impossible.
Enrollment down 12.6%, like other community colleges across the country
Hughes agrees that the CIRB can never replicate the full college experience online.
“For children who are coming to college for the first time, we continue to believe that bricks and mortar are extremely important,” she said.
Enright is concerned that the students who most need to be there in person may not have made it to the CIRB this fall.
Enrollment is down 12.6% this semester, reflecting national trends among community colleges.
âMany students are still recovering from the challenges posed by the pandemic,â she said. âAs this subsides, the students who are online will come back. ”
Gomez, meanwhile, is determined to earn an associate’s degree in general education and then, eventually, a bachelor’s degree.
âI would say it was difficult,â she said. “But the remote really works for me now, with my life situation.”
Linda Borg covers education for The Journal.