Teaching at the height of the pandemic served as a challenge for K-12 and college students.
So, last year, the University of the District of Columbia [UDC] initiated a pilot program to keep students on track with online and modified onsite study.
While most colleges conducted classes remotely, UDC designed socially-distanced pods where students could reserve time for classwork on personal laptops or sanitized PCs provided by the university.
New Approach to Learning for a Diverse Student Body
Meetings in 2020 between UDC President Dr. Ronald Mason, Jr., Chief Academic Officer Dr. Lawrence T. Potter, Jr. and Assistant Chief Academic Officer Dr. Carl Moore shaped the direction of UDC’s Center for Digital Access and Learning.
Funding came through the CARES Act’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.
With a diverse student body, many students at UDC must not only raise a family but work full-time jobs while also continuing their matriculation. Many students have limited access to high-speed internet at home or they share a computer with other family members. Then, there remain many UDC athletes who travel and want to make sure they stay on top of their studies. And the Center can accommodate these various needs.
“We knew some of our learners may not have space or even the technology to participate in emergency remote instruction during a pandemic,” Moore said. “We began thinking about how to provide space for our learners. The Center provides our learners the ability to leverage 21st-century skills to achieve learning goals.”
Distant Learning Advances Quickly
The Center has expanded its offerings to strengthen learning outcomes for students, faculty and administrators. Opportunities for collaborative, immersive and hands-on interaction utilizing technology have broadened.
UDC recently demonstrated the inner workings of the Center. Faculty, administrators and students participated in a simulated mechanical engineering class in a Digital Learning Room. Dr. Kate Klein, associate professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, delivered a presentation between students in the classroom and those in the virtual chat function. The learning room has self-tracking cameras and an overhead microphone. Three screens allow everyone inside and outside the classroom to see the instructor’s notes. A large screen also doubles as a whiteboard.
“I really like the virtual breakout rooms for this course,” Klein said. “We have a lot of team projects, and breakout sessions allow students to work together on long-term goals for a project.”
Virtual Reality Takes Over
The Digital Learning Lab can deliver face-to-face presentations while also allowing others to participate through video conferencing and it’s equipped with self-tracking cameras and an overhead microphone. And more expansions have been slated for the Center which currently has 35 pods.
Moore describes the Center as offering a plethora of services for learners who need to access computers and high-speed internet.
“To make this a success, we had to develop more of a sense of digital literacy,” Moore said. “We have a state-of-the-art learning center in the nation’s capital.”
Twitter and Instagram: @washinformer
Brenda C. Siler
Twitter and Instagram: @bcscomm
University of the District of Columbia (UDC)