On March 18, in light of the growing number of COVID-19 infections across the country, the university announced all classes would be taught online, and faculty and staff would work remotely. The ripple effect of this decision could have been detrimental to students — especially those expecting to graduate in May. But Embry-Riddle had an advantage: the Worldwide Campus.
As a pioneer in online learning, the Worldwide Campus was well-prepared to help pivot coursework, faculty and students at Embry-Riddle’s residential campuses in Daytona Beach, Florida, and Prescott, Arizona, to a virtual platform.
“When the shutdown started, we were ready,” says Worldwide Campus Chancellor John R. Watret, Ph.D. “There are a lot of teams working together to create this very active learning environment in an asynchronous world. Our business model is running very well and continues to move forward.”
To enhance the experience for students to meet virtually with their instructors, the campus migrated its EagleVision online learning platform from Adobe Connect to Zoom. The transition took place in one weekend.
“It was definitely an all-hands-on-deck approach that involved several teams within IT Support, Worldwide Academic Technology and RCTLE [Bruce A. Rothwell Center for Teaching and Learning],” says Carey Hansard (’14), executive director of academic technology at the Worldwide Campus. It helped, she adds, that the campus was already preparing to move its platform to Zoom prior to the COVID-19 crisis.
Converting in-class curricula to online modules and getting faculty up-to-speed with online instruction was another hurdle. But not one that couldn’t be jumped.
The RCTLE at the Worldwide Campus worked closely with its sister Centers for Teaching and Learning at the Daytona Beach and Prescott campuses to transition residential faculty from in-person instruction to an online modality.
“The Worldwide Instructional Design and Development team was able to provide online course content to residential faculty,” Hansard says. “The RCTLE team also created asynchronous faculty training for Zoom.”
The asynchronous platform, which uses pre-recorded videos, webinars and discussion boards, gave the faculty flexibility to complete the training on their own schedules. The Worldwide Campus uses both asynchronous and synchronous online classroom learning systems. The latter takes place in real time, using videoconference, chat and virtual face-to-face technologies.
“At Worldwide, online learning is what we do every day. We already have infrastructure in place to support online learning, and we are able to help faculty with just about anything they need,” Hansard says.
As the COVID-19 crisis continued, preventing residential students from returning to in-person classrooms for summer session A, the Worldwide Campus opened its virtual doors to allow Daytona Beach and Prescott campus students to continue their education with no delay.
Frederic Ndiaye (’04, ’12), executive director of student support services at the Worldwide Campus, worked with registrars and deans to identify equivalent courses among the three campuses, so that residential students could be enrolled in Worldwide courses. He also worked with the provost’s office to identify 54 residential faculty members to teach online classes through Worldwide.
Students already enrolled in residential Summer A were automatically shifted to equivalent Worldwide Campus courses and key deadlines were synchronized.
“In our May term, we registered 10,593 Worldwide and residential students into Worldwide courses seamlessly,” Watret says. “At the close of Fiscal Year 2020 in June, 91% of our approximately 23,000 students were taking online courses.” For the entire fiscal year, ending June 30, course registrations exceeded 92,000, he adds.
The popularity of online learning at Embry-Riddle preceded the coronavirus pandemic. “Overall, for us at Worldwide, we’ve seen a significant increase in enrollment every term. Every time we’ve had a projection, we have met and exceeded that projection,” Ndiaye says.
He attributes the continual rise in enrollment to a combination of factors, such as: attractive programs that meet the market demand; collective retention efforts from campus and online advisors that encourage students to pursue and complete their degrees; and scholarship campaigns geared to re-engage students who stopped classes for financial or other reasons.
“Worldwide’s mode of online instruction is [and has been] appealing due to the fact that students do not have to physically attend class at a specific time,” Ndiaye says. “They can organize their week so that they can work, have family time and take classes.”
In recent months, the pandemic may also have sparked an uptick in enrollment. “The increase in COVID-19 cases all around the world has placed limitations on social activities, which has prompted some students to pursue their education,” he says.
A University United
While disruptive, Watret says the COVID-19 crisis has brought out the best in Eagles from all campuses and made the university stronger.
“The collaboration, the camaraderie and all the support to meet the demand of getting students in class and keeping them going in their education, has really brought the three campuses together more than they’ve ever been,” he says.