How APU Is Enhancing the Remote Learning Experience for Students

by Stephanie Thurrott

With the shift to remote learning to help keep the Azusa Pacific University community healthy and safe, fall 2020 won’t look like any other time in the school’s history—including the spring’s emergency transition to remote instruction. Faculty and staff have been working hard all summer to ensure that students continue to have rich, rewarding opportunities to learn, connect, and grow. They’re ready—and excited—to reconnect with students.

“Our pivot to remote-hybrid learning for fall 2020 presents challenges and opportunities for us to face together,” said APU Provost Rukshan Fernando, Ph.D. “In every college and school at APU, the faculty are engaged in deep work this summer to ensure a rich learner-centered environment for the upcoming semester. We are focused on providing our students with the life-changing educational experiences for which APU is known.”

Remote learning is not a new endeavor for the university, as APU has offered successful online degree programs for well over a decade. However, this fall, every course will be remote with significant investment in optimizing the online experience for classes normally taught face-to-face.

Here are the ways the university has been working to enhance the remote learning experience for students and ensure everyone feels productive, engaged, and supported.

Reimagining Interactive Connections

APU is striving to recreate the best of the classroom environment, especially dynamic interactions between faculty and students. “Students will receive a wonderful learning experience this fall,” said Shawna L. Lafreniere, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at APU. Lafreniere has extensive experience designing innovative teaching and learning experiences, which will be adapted to a remote-hybrid context.

Lafreniere has been equipping and assisting fellow faculty to reimagine their courses for the fall. “Students will experience Christ-centered academic excellence and meaningful engagement, with exciting pedagogical strategies to support learning,” she said.

The remote-hybrid experience combines remote and online teaching and learning. This means faculty will:

  • Live-stream synchronous classes, where students all participate online at the same time
  • Incorporate asynchronous components, which students complete outside of class

“This combination allows us to maximize the virtual face-to-face time that we have without Zoom fatigue,” Lafreniere said.

Being able to see and hear one another is critical in establishing a strong connection in remote classes, said Mike Truong, Ph.D., executive director and digital learning architect for the Office of Innovative Teaching and Technology (ITT), part of the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment (CTLA) at APU. “Faculty can speak with emotions, talk in a conversational manner, and create a sense of closeness with students,” he said. “Students can also ask faculty questions in real time, promoting a better instructor-learner interaction.”

Other hallmarks of campus life at APU are also being reenvisioned to maximize community connections. This includes a fully virtual chapel experience. Students will have a 48-hour window to view the latest chapel at live.apu.edu, said Chris Kelly, director of media and events for IMT.

Designing Coursework for Remote-Hybrid Learning

Faculty at APU have been busy designing courses and adapting learning activities that are compelling and engaging in an online environment. A sample schedule in a fall 2020 class that meets three times a week might look like this:

  • Before the week starts, students read an article or chapter, or watch a video or micro-lecture.
  • On Monday, the class meets together on Zoom and the instructor gives a short lecture. Then, the students break into Zoom rooms, work together to solve a problem, and regroup to share their solutions. The instructor assigns another activity for them to complete before their Wednesday Zoom class.
  • Wednesday’s Zoom class might be a lecture or time to work on group projects, with another activity assigned for Friday.
  • Friday’s Zoom class could be individual presentations, with the next activity assigned for Monday.

Courses will all be different and adapted to the content of the class, but most will blend synchronous and asynchronous components. Each course’s structure will be outlined in its syllabus.

Investing in Technology to Support Remote Learning

Strategic investments to upgrade APU’s classroom technology—including ceiling-mounted HD cameras and specialized video conferencing soundbars—enable professors to safely go into their classrooms to use the new technology for live and recorded instruction. And ITT is supporting them so they can maximize Canvas, the virtual classroom, for all courses.

Faculty are working to make all course materials, quizzes, assignments, assessments, and activities accessible through Canvas. “This is good news for students because they are now afforded access—anytime, anywhere, and on any device—to learning in ways they may not have before,” Truong said.

Zoom and Google Meet are integrated into Canvas, as are online exam security and proctoring services like Respondus LockDown Browser and Monitor.

ITT has been offering weekly webinars, on-demand resources, and individual/group consultations to support APU faculty in their transition to remote-hybrid teaching.

“As faculty, we always strive to create the optimal conditions for learning in our classes. It’s no different this fall, we just have a different space to adapt to,” Lafreniere said.

Preparing Students to Adapt in Their Careers

While students may be coping with the reality that their fall learning experience will be different than what they expected, Lafreniere points to some silver-lining benefits. “We know disruptors will happen in students’ careers,” she said. “Experiencing these challenges now has the potential to increase their capacity for resilience, adaptability, and innovation in the long term. We encourage students to embrace the value and opportunities that can come from these disruptors.”

Building a Strong Future

The changes taking place at APU and across higher education in response to the pandemic are likely to have a lasting—and largely positive—effect going forward. “Online learning and other forms of technology-enhanced learning are here to stay,” said Truong. “Institutions and faculty who are actively leveling up their knowledge, skills, and abilities to function in this new world will be the ones who will thrive.”

Visit Destination APU: Remote Learning Together This Fall to stay updated on the latest university announcements.