GCC to open with remote learning Sept. 2

  • Greenfield Community College will reopen largely with remote classes starting Sept. 2. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 8/21/2020 3:19:53 PM
Modified: 8/21/2020 3:19:39 PM

GREENFIELD — Greenfield Community College is ready to reopen virtually, with limited in-person instruction, starting Sept. 2.

In early May, GCC President Yves Salomon-Fernández announced that almost all instruction would be remote for the fall semester, so everyone immediately got to work to prepare, according to Dean of Students Anna Berry. Some programs, however, like nursing and courses that have labs, will need to have some in-person instruction.

“Four months later, we’re ready to give students the best academic experience they can have without meeting together in person,” Berry said. “Faculty have always been a huge part of the social-emotional support for students, because they’re the ones who are with them on a regular basis. Our already very supportive faculty are thinking about how they can enhance that even more.”

Berry said the college’s early decision to teach remotely allowed it to ensure that students and faculty have access to technology and the knowledge to use it. The library has made laptop computers and hotspots available to students to borrow and offers information about affordable internet access.

“The staff in Information Technology has also worked to make sure courses are ADA-compliant (Americans with Disabilities Act), for example, adding captioning to Zoom sessions, and that courses are compatible with mobile phones,” Berry said.

Fall classes will be a mix of synchronous — all students participate at the same time through a platform like Zoom — and asynchronous, in which students access materials and do the coursework at whatever time is convenient for them. Faculty and staff members are working with a variety of platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet and YouTube Live, and have broadened their use of Google Drive.

The IT department has also upgraded GCC’s learning management system, called Moodle, to improve student-teacher interaction, and is making sure a variety of tools work seamlessly with it, Berry said. Throughout the summer, the IT department has also worked with faculty to help them become more comfortable teaching remotely, to determine which tools are best for them and to redesign their courses to work well with available technology.

“They’ve had an assist from Virtual Valley, a GCC-based conference providing professional development to educators on how to best use technology for teaching and for connecting with students,” Berry said.

Student government will remain active, with the Student Senate already meeting regularly via Zoom and communicating through Moodle. Forums like the popular “Pizza with the President” will continue online.

“This will continue to give students the opportunity to engage with the president, as well as other campus professionals,” Berry said. “Student leaders, with support from our student activities coordinator, are also developing a weekly film and discussion series in partnership with Greenfield Garden Cinemas and film industry professionals addressing current social issues, as well as lighter topics.”

She said social media is proving to be a great resource for student connection, especially the GCC Squad, a Facebook page developed by students last spring that has allowed them to connect and share information, frustrations, concerns and triumphs.

“In spite of its significant challenges, distance education offers the possibility of allowing students to participate in more co-curricular activities because the need to travel or arrange child care is removed,” Berry explained. “Already there has been a significant increase in the number of people attending the president’s monthly all-college meeting, now that they can do so virtually.”

GCC is also in discussions with fellow community colleges across the state to allow them to share remote student activities and broaden students’ experiences.

Salomon-Fernández has all support offices that GCC students depend on fully operational but offered remotely at this time, including academic advising, counseling, disability services, peer tutoring, women’s resources and veterans’ services.

“They connect with students through whatever platform works best, be it email, phone, texting or video conferencing,” she said.

Berry said faculty and staff members are particularly cognizant of the challenges of supporting students without face-to-face contact. Support offices are broadening their online information to better connect students to the help they need, including video introductions of staff at New Student Orientation. Students will also have a mental health screening tool available so that they have an anonymous way to screen themselves before seeking assistance.

The college’s food pantry will continue to operate, with students able to access grab-and-go bags throughout the semester by emailing foodpantry@gcc.mass.edu.

According to Berry, the college has received emergency grant funding through private donors and the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts that will allow GCC to make monetary awards to students who need food, shelter or other basic needs.

“In addition to these small monetary grants, the Women’s Resource Center’s coordinator and resource advocate are available to guide students to additional community resources that may be available to them,” Berry said.

To access services, students can submit a request-for-assistance form at bit.ly/34jJ4gK.

“In this very unusual semester, one thing that will not change is GCC’s commitment to social justice, which will be more of a priority than ever before, both inside and outside of the virtual classroom,” Berry said of the upcoming semester. “I think we’re going to see a renewed commitment by our faculty to include threads related to social justice throughout all of their courses, helping students gain social capital and find the power of their voices is an essential function of higher education.”

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.



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