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Innovating Beyond the Pandemic: How Online Modalities Support Student Success

Now serving a more diverse set of students than ever before, higher education must provide a variety of learning modalities that reflect student’s various learning styles while offering quality education, engagement and accessibility.

At Lansing Community College (LCC), we serve a diverse community need from the workforce to transfer to personal development. During the pandemic, the need to educate our community’s future nurses, paramedics and manufacturers was critical and could not be interrupted, so we were compelled to adjust quickly to the new realities of higher education. Now that the pandemic has passed its peak, we’ve been able to take the lessons we learned forward to better educate the next generation of students.

In the middle of a semester in 2020, LCC developed different online course modalities fit to preserve curricula continuity and meet our students’ different learning needs both in and outside of the classroom.

Faculty spent hours creating new activities, labs, lessons and engagement activities to keep the students engaged and learning. Because our learners had diverse learning styles, we created two new modalities and used one of the current modalities in a new way. The new modalities were called online real-time and hyflex. Online real-time encourages student participation by presenting class materials to all students at the same time, keeping the feel of an in-person classroom in a digital environment. Hyflex allowed students to choose the modality through which they wanted to attend class that day—either face-to-face, online real-time or traditional asynchronous. We also modified our online hybrid modality incorporates necessary in-person elements (i.e., labs or clinical work), with an online classroom schedule, allowing the students who needed in-person development as part of their professional certifications to proceed, even in the midst of the pandemic.

Since the end of pandemic-related social distancing precautions, we have seen students remain enthusiastic about online course delivery modalities, with some uptick in traditional in-person class modalities that are no longer limited. In terms of seat count, in-person lab and lecture courses have seen an increase of 7.5% and 20%, respectively, while online and online/hybrid course delivery methods have decreased by 23% and 31% respectively, numbers that reflect reported student enthusiasm for continued online learning. The online/hybrid structure is an interesting model to examine in this context, as it has decreased from a pandemic-era high seat count enrollment of 8,535 to 3,859 during the 2023-24 academic year.

The fact that elements of our pandemic preparation remain attractive to students and potential students—those who will constitute the future of our college—speaks to the highly considered innovations academic staff and administrators made during the pandemic. Those efforts, though born of necessity, remain a selling point as students construct and plan their academic careers.

One important area where these professionals collaborate is within the structure of our Academic Senate. With student learning as its ultimate goal, the Academic Senate provides faculty input and advice to the administration concerning issues of college-wide educational philosophy, college-wide academic policy and priorities in the college-wide deployment of educational resources.

The Academic Senate also conducts research through the college’s Center for Data Science (CDS) in order to determine best practices for course delivery in the new, post-pandemic academic landscape. Recently, the senate conducted a student survey to determine the best modality for particular learning styles. Respondents’ data suggested that many students feel they learn better from face-to-face classes but that online classes fit around their work and personal lives. For example, a full 80% of students responding from a face-to-face class said they learn best by attending in that modality, while only 50% of online students said the same. Conversely, 66% of students responding from a face-to-face class said that modality worked best for their schedule, while 88% of online students said the same. Responses varied by ethnicity, however, with a few data points suggesting Black students have a stronger preference for face-to-face classes.

This research will prove invaluable toward homing in class delivery and student engagements priorities and systems. It is part of an ongoing senate initiative to gather data and utilize CDS analysis to better serve students and, in that way, strengthen the community at large.

The senate is also looking past online course delivery to the next intersection of technology and education. Recently, senators voted to create a cross-campus, collaborative group dedicated to exploring the latest understanding of artificial intelligence and its potential implications, drawbacks and uses in the classroom and at LCC broadly. The group will serve as a centralized team that brings together many disparate areas and committees already discussing this topic. This committee is only one of many ways the Academic Senate promotes educational technology in service of student success and program completion; the Technology Across Curriculum (TAC) Committee (chaired by the college’s chief information officer and a faculty senator), is committed to seamlessly infusing technology into our college’s educational journey, ensuring it underpins and enhances all teaching and learning activities. Focused on proactively identifying and resolving tech-related challenges, embracing and implementing innovative technological solutions, and eradicating any barriers that impede academic success, the TAC deeply values faculty collaboration and engagement and aligns efforts with the Academic Senate’s other standing committees.

At LCC, our academic and instructional staff do a lot to support students who want to take online courses, support that has grown and become more all-encompassing during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost all our student services offer face-to-face, phone and virtual options for students, including counseling, tutoring, advising, success coaches, financial services and more. Also, we offer free loaner laptops and other necessary tech to students through our library. All this supports students who prefer to go online, offering them the same culture of care attendant to an on-campus LCC experience. In the classroom, our Academic Senate and others have worked to incorporate Universal Design for Learning across the college’s curriculum, using instructional designers to help faculty incorporate high-impact practices into their online courses.