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A Birds-Eye View from California Community Colleges Faculty During the COVID-19 Crisis

Tomorrow's Academy

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Faculty who had never signed up or been trained to teach Distance Education (online) made a rapid alteration and so did their students who, by the way, had purposefully chosen face-to-face courses, not online.


The posting below gives an important look at the impact the COVID-19 crisis is having on California community colleges – and by implication elsewhere. It is by Dr. Janet Fulks, ASCCC (Academic Senate for California Community Colleges) Guided Pathways Task Force Lead and Virginia May, ASCCC Treasurer, Guided Pathways Task Force Chair, and is reprinted with permission. Janet Fulks can be reached at:


Rick Reis

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A Birds-Eye View from California Community Colleges Faculty During the COVID-19 Crisis


On Thursday, March 19, 2020 the Governor of California put in place a stay at home order, covering the entire state, until further notice. The massive shift to remotely delivered course sections, for approximately 150,000 face-to-face college sections (representing over 3.5 million enrollments occurred essentially overnight for California Community Colleges (CCC’s). Faculty who had never signed up or been trained to teach Distance Education (online) made a rapid alteration and so did their students who, by the way, had purposefully chosen face-to-face courses, not online. This sea change included a clarification that the current emergency status represented “remote learning” not the typical Distance Education which is controlled by numerous state and federal educational codes and regulations. CCC Distance Education has been intentionally designed with special training and curriculum best practices supported through the Online Educational Initiative in California.  The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) went into high gear, immediately creating webinars and forums to help identify issues and solutions with the goal of assisting faculty and their students to complete a semester during a crisis. Gathering data on this COVID-19 conversion occurred through a variety of webinars in large and small groups, by disciplines, topics and various key issues. These webinars  enable faculty leaders to stay in touch with the most pressing issues as well as provide live support and sounding boards to create opportunities to improve and provide customized training. The impact of this move can only be imagined when considering millions of enrollments and tens of thousands of faculty, however, CCC faculty and students have risen to the challenge, examining practices, re-examining teaching and learning and working together to improve the academy and the higher education experience.


The CCC system employs approximately 17,500 full-time (tenure track) and 15,500 temporary academic faculty. The enormous weight on faculty to deliver academic content via remote delivery to students who elected NOT to take online courses provides some essential lessons and considerations as higher education moves into a post-COVID-19 world. While these changes could have been a recipe for disaster, faculty dedicated hours of work to upload content and interact virtually with students, while attending emergency webinars to address remote education and communicate with colleagues on best practices. This article addresses only a few of the key issues identified by faculty and a sample of solutions they are applying. 

The first shock wave for faculty was the loss of contact with students, likening it to a diaspora. Some students had never accessed virtual communication routes to interact with faculty, and most students had no idea how to access counselors and other support services such as tutoring, math labs and writing workshops. In some cases, faculty reported that they had lost contact with 50% or more of their students and that students did not appear to be responding to email. Those students in touch with faculty, reported being overwhelmed with pressing issues such as loss of jobs and schooling their own children. Because the CCC students represent a very diverse population (including age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, educational goals and academic experience) faculty quickly learned that “class” needed to include discussions about self-care, scheduling, technical access to computers and internet, quiet locations to work within the home, access to food banks and other key survival needs. These topics needed to be addressed even before proceeding with the course materials. Surprisingly, some students communicated that the course time represented a haven or retreat from the negative news and the isolation. One faculty member shared that she converted her email settings to instantly alert her, on her phone and computer, in order to respond immediately to student inquiries and reconnect right away when the students needed it.

To better serve students, faculty advocated for asynchronous access to course materials to enable students to control their own schedule, incorporating their new responsibilities and creating optimum focus. A few colleges required faculty to “hold” classes at the on-campus scheduled time, but these limitations quickly evidenced a need for adjustment not just within the student experience, but also for faculty prepping to teach in new ways, prepping courses for summer and dealing with their own family issues. Some students, having settled into the stay-at-home routines, requested synchronous class-time because they missed learning from other students, the discussion and real-time interaction that face-to-face education offers. 

Faculty reported that getting materials online with adequate ability to assess students’ learning and provide feedback was a huge challenge. Many concerns were raised about the students’ ability to:

·      Use testing platforms 

·      Convert hands-on performance and laboratory type learning to online substitutions 

·      Sustain academic integrity 

·      Meet standards while needing flexibility

·      Maintain learning environments and personal privacy

Faculty were provided access to a variety of software platforms designed to “catch” cheating, including novel use of computer and phone cameras. However, many faculty felt this added stress to an environment where they committed to maintaining standards for student learning outcomes, yet flexibility acknowledging the stress and limitations for students. Strategies from faculty discussion included clearly defining academic misconduct, renewing instruction on paraphrasing, defining open book, and access to other students in group work versus sharing answers etc. The faculty also reminded students that learning outcomes are built in higher education and that sliding-by would not prepare them for subsequent coursework, transfer, or careers. Some faculty created integrity emails or integrity checks before online work where students committed to the veracity of their work. Most realized that face-to-face quizzes, tests, and assignments needed specific overhaul, including one college where an entire department proclaimed all exams would be open-book, so as not to disadvantage honest students. This move necessitated student work that required higher level thinking, evaluation, analysis and problem solving that resulted in more individualized answers at higher learning levels. Faculty emphasized the importance of collegial sharing, trial and error and exploration of the limitations and benefits within our CCC-wide online learning management system (Canvas). Additionally, large classroom settings, such as one Biology teacher with a lecture class of over 200 students, described, demonstrated how remote learning intensified all these issues. While some faculty were swift to assume that students are primarily honest and want to learn, other faculty teaching lower levels, particularly in some mathematics and foreign language courses, worried about the ease of using google and translators to side-step real learning . 

Over-riding most discussions was the need to ensure that a passing grade aligned with outcomes including both knowledge and skills associated with that course. One senate faculty president who met with his student government, reported that students requested the ability to repeat courses, even if they pass this semester, to be sure they learned the material. This new learning environment and the need to complete this semester in preparation for whatever the next stage holds, made students feel unsure of their depth of learning. Certain faculty are advocating for opportunities for students to audit courses revisiting the material in typical settings. Faculty in areas where skills are key, such as performance and laboratory or technical settings, suggested providing follow-up options for labs and specific skills, acknowledging the importance of a laboratory learning environment that addresses safety, analysis and performance. No one wants a welder, electrician, nurse, fireman, engineer, or policeman who only learned their skills virtually.

The COVID-19 crisis is in full swing, but the CCC arm of higher education has geared up with hundreds of webinars for faculty. This is a period of learning and growth for the academy. While faculty are devoting time and energy, they have also declared some major strategies they will carry to their face-to-face teaching when the crisis passes. While the challenges are great, this focus on learning outcomes and what students need to know, do, and apply as a result of their education, will improve our courses and programs.

1 Fall 2019 numbers of course sections and enrollments were used to approximate Spring sections since the data is not available

3 100 webinars reaching thousands of faculty and posted at

4 CCCCO DataMart faculty and staff reporting for 2018