Following spring break, USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology students returned to class this week, convening online over the videoconferencing app Zoom. From large lectures to small seminars, students, now dispersed across the country, are coming together to continue learning. Some even logged on for a group yoga class.
“It is going great. Classes are still interactive, with people talking and chatting, and I’m even able to hold office hours,” said John Walsh, assistant dean of education. “We have up to 200 students Zooming in at one time, so we just figured out how to make it work. Plus, we are a program that has always used Blackboard, USC’s online learning management system, to its fullest capacity and that is paying off for us and the students.”
Figuring out how to leverage technology for learning is actually an area in which the USC Leonard Davis School excels; in 1998, the pioneering institution was the first school accredited to teach a master’s program at a distance by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). Twenty-two years later, that experience was useful in moving all levels of academic programming online in order to address the need for social distancing due to the danger of COVID-19.
“The transition went as smoothly as possible because most of our instructors were very well-versed in teaching online,” said Jim Alejandre, director of distance learning at the USC Leonard Davis School.
Faculty member Caroline Cicero said her experience using Zoom for all her classes has been positive. “I have been teaching blended and online masters classes for several years, so the addition of undergrad classes has been easy,” she said. “Students are very comfortable using online platforms and interacting via their screens.”
Indeed, Lois Albert Angelo, a freshman in human development and aging, said that despite the distance, he continues to feel connected to his courses and classmates.
“Although I’m not able to see my friends and teachers in person, being able to still communicate and share ideas with them is very rewarding in this time of social distancing,” he said.