OpenHub’s Rapid Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic

Transition to online learning for the Web Development Bootcamp:

  • On March 13, 2020, Web Development Bootcamp Mentor Shannah White sent an email to her students: Web Dev classes moving to ONLINE forum. Three days later, Hudson Valley’s technology hub known as OpenHub was online teaching classes using Zoom.
  • March 18, 2020 Governor Cuomo announced school shutdowns statewide would go into effect and for only 2 weeks.

As a Technology Hub in the Hudson Valley of New York State, our organization has been nimble to anticipate needs and timelines to sustain our classes, meetups, and future events, such as the annual HV TechFest, planning on being held in October.

Challenges:

Overtaxed Broadband Infrastructure:

According to the NY Times article, ‘Surging Traffic Is Slowing Down Our Internet’, Ookla, a broadband speed testing service reported that median download speeds slowed by up to 24 percent in New York. The unprecedented strain on our technology infrastructure and the variance from household-to-household on the quality of connection challenged our ability to meet online and to use video to see each other’s faces.

Pedagogy (teaching style and methodology)

Mentor Shannah White shares some concerns and feedback on transitioning to online classrooms.

“At first, I was concerned about ‘How to engage students in an active learning experience?’ and ‘How to gauge lesson comprehension?’ Since my students were tech students, I assumed that we would all skill up rather quickly, and we did. But with every new system, there is a learning curve. We learned new habits about logging on, sharing screens, muting mic’s, that kind of thing. After a couple of classes, that all started to feel routine.”

Initial challenges switching from in-person to remote learning?

“Something I immediately missed when we transitioned from the physical, in-person to virtual classroom, was the ability to see people’s facial expressions and read body language. To ease stress on broadband signals students join classes with static photos instead of video. Also, the in-person classroom had a certain ‘energy’. So when we switched to online teaching, I felt a little awkward, even a little blind like, how can I read how well my student’s learning process is going if I can't see their body language? And there was a new feeling of claustrophobia, as I was trying to fit everything onto the screen, from student I.D. photos to the chat column to the different materials I wanted to present.”

What would be your 3 top learnings from the transition to remote teaching?

“What quickly replaced those feelings was a confidence that now all the students had an equal opportunity to see the material – to sit in the ‘virtual front row’, which brought a sense of intimacy and engagement to the learning experience. Sometimes in the physical classroom, I would have the feeling that some students felt ‘farther away’ than others. But now, I am starting to prefer the online medium because of each student’s access to a front row seat. To further engage students, I only need to ask questions. Reading body language is being replaced by listening and asking students questions. So I no longer feel blind because I can hear. ”

“In the physical classroom, if a student needed individual attention, the other students couldn't see the issue on that student's computer screen. However, in the virtual classroom, students share their screen and everyone can see us work-through their issue together. In the online environment everyone can learn from that student's challenge, and even contribute, which allows for mutual learning, peer-to-peer.”

“Lastly, by recording the class, I can offer students an opportunity to review what was taught in class and process the information at their own speed, by controlling when to pause the video.”

Outcome:

  • Classes are ongoing and without interruption.
  • Students and Mentors are adjusting to the new paradigm of online classroom.
  • A grant was funded to allow for weekly office hours, which give students extra time, one-on-one, with their Mentor.
  • The enrollment attrition-rate was nearly none because of the transition to online classrooms.
  • There are now recordings of each class which is a new resource for student learning.