WBU Prepared for an Online World

March 31, 2020

Man sitting at electric piano communicating with a student through video messaging
Dr. Kennith Freeman, assistant professor of collaborative piano at Wayland, teaches a private lesson with one of his students in the School of Music’s technology lab. Private lessons are just one type of class music professors are adapting to an online format.

Dr. Randy Rogers carefully checked all his technology. The computer and monitor were set up. The microphone was in place. The video feeds were functioning properly and his ear buds were alive with audio while keeping the video transmission from producing feedback. And then, he waited….

Today’s class wasn’t going to be big. It was, afterall, Greek. It was out of the ordinary, however. Normally Dr. Rogers, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Wayland Baptist University, would be sitting in the classroom, meeting with students face-to-face to discuss the Biblical language. Today, Dr. Rogers was the only person in the room … Technically, he was the only person in the building.

It’s a new world for institutions of higher education that have been forced to transition to online education due to the threat of COVID-19. With social distancing initiatives in place, professors are no longer allowed to gather with students in a classrooms. It’s a new reality. But it’s something for which Wayland was uniquely prepared.

“One of the things I really love about what Wayland has done for us is put us in this practice,” Rogers said. “We must do it online. It’s part of our culture.”

Wayland has been offering online education since 1997. The format and delivery methods have indeed changed in the last 23 years, but Wayland has stayed ahead of the curve. The university uses Blackboard as it’s online delivery method and offers a number of degrees completely online. Most students at WBU’s external campuses take classes online as well as face-to-face. Currently, more than 5,500 students are taking online classes.

Senior Morgan McIntosh, from Colorado Springs, Colo., was preparing to graduate when the COVID-19 attack changed her plans. She will officially complete her degree and have her graduation posted in May, but there will be no ceremony to celebrate. Still, McIntosh is moving forward with her classes and said that things are going well.

“I’ve been able to prioritize my time to stay on top of things,” she said. “My professors have been very helpful and quick with answering any questions that I have through email and text.”

McIntosh, a biological sciences major, is no stranger to online classes and while the switch to online only is outside the norm, she said the transition has been pretty easy overall. Other students, however, have found the change a little more taxing.

“I’m grateful to my teachers for doing everything they can to switch to an online format, but it’s difficult to keep a schedule without having to go to class,” said Chloe Barham, a freshman history major from Amarillo. “I’m happy that I’m able to complete the semester, but being at home has made it hard to keep in mind that I’m still in school. It almost seems like I have more work to do online than I did before.”

The change has not come without a learning curve for faculty as well. Academic disciplines such as music must determine the best way to deliver education to an audience that relies heavily on performing together. Still, the change hasn’t been overwhelming.

“We don’t traditionally do a lot of online teaching in the School of Music,” said Dr. Ann Stutes, Dean of the School of Music. “We do much more face-to-face, but because technology drives the discipline of music, we are very adept at integrating technology into our standard face-to-face courses.”

Stutes said the problem they face is in teaching the large ensemble groups. Standard classes with course content and the one-on-one, private lessons are easily transitionable to an online format, but bringing a large choir together to rehearse is a bit of challenge.

“The technology really does not exist, or it is certainly not accessible to all of our students, to allow us to actually have a choir rehearsal online collectively, or a band rehearsal online collectively,” Stutes said. 

She said the large ensembles are using the time to connect and communicate with one another while working on their individual music repertoires. Dr. Anthony King is also breaking the band into smaller groups in order to work with fewer students at one time.

“We are using those groups to share and communicate and make sure everyone is safe,” Stutes said.

The music faculty continue to research ways to make ensemble teaching effective and faculty all across campus are reaching out to teach and nurture their students. Although it’s early in the process, things seem to be running smoothly and both faculty and students exercise their intellect to make sure this new way of “business as usual” doesn’t lose its effectiveness.

“Really, our school has a mindset that there is no place we can’t reach,” Dr. Rogers said. “We put our information out there. We provide a good platform for the experience and when it’s time, we can deliver.”