Digital detour a successful path for Jacksonville College

Known as “the biggest small town in Texas,” Jacksonville is situated on 14 square miles of rolling hills. Jacksonville College, founded in 1899 and the oldest two-year school in the state, keeps stride with current technology and offers quality general education courses.

The college’s online capabilities proved indispensable halfway through this spring semester. Like other higher education institutions across the country, Jacksonville College faced the COVID-19 shutdown, which made online remote learning crucial.

“It’s been wild. That’s an understatement, isn’t it?” said Vice President for Academics Marolyn Welch in a virtual trustee meeting May 16.
“Everything was rocking along really well until after spring break, and the news began to filter in that schools were not going to reconvene.”

“There was a bit of trepidation about how we would work it out,” she said of the initial stages, but noted the faculty went through fast-track training “with a resolve that we would finish the semester online through remote instruction, and we were able to finish successfully,” Welch said. “I am very proud of my faculty.”

Despite the virus’s ramifications, Jacksonville College transitioned smoothly to 100 percent online remote instruction. A major factor in the seamless adjustment was preparation. Welch said the college was already preparing through its Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) called “Going the Distance with Distance Education.” Because of the QEP, the faculty adjusted well to moving courses online, Welch said.

The college’s QEP embodies the institution’s determination to “challenge minds and transform lives” through improving student success in online education courses. Successfully facilitating its QEP is integral to the college’s standing with its accrediting body.

As students nationwide struggled with the drastic academic adjustments the virus caused, Jacksonville College’s Teaching & Learning Center (TLC) extended its tutoring to 11 hours a day.

“The additional summer hours for online tutoring have allowed students to receive tutoring throughout the day and early evening, giving them extra time to get assistance to successfully complete their coursework,” said TLC director Jan Modisette.

“Four tutors are monitoring their computers from 8 a.m. through 7 p.m. weekdays, offering tutoring in all subjects and technical assistance for submitting assignments in addition to giving friendly smiles with encouragement to students who are often lonely during the pandemic,” Modisette added.

Based on future social distancing directives, plans for the fall semester could include hybrid classes, meaning face-to-face instruction combined with remote learning may be used to follow guidelines.

The college has established a COVID-19 task force that is studying what procedures to establish when students return to campus. The overarching protocol is to follow the recommendations from local and federal public health officials, Welch said.

“We anticipate the use of hand sanitizer, face masks and social distancing,” she said, “but the specifics are yet to be determined. We also have capped the number of students that can be seated in our classrooms, but that cap is flexible based on public health reports.”

Though the college already has a robust online instruction capability, this summer the college is developing an online proficiency rubric for all faculty who teach face-to-face classes, in case instruction is required to move 100 percent online this fall, Welch said. “No matter what happens, we will be ready to go fully online.” 

—Jacksonville College is a cooperating ministry with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

TEXAN Correspondent
Norm Miller
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