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The New Face of Learning

Online classes and a new virtual community begin at Bentley

Molly Mastantuono

As the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading across the nation, American colleges and universities reacted, closing campuses and transitioning students from classroom instruction to online learning. For Bentley, the shift to online education took effect on Monday, March 23. The move requires “every single faculty member and student to change how they teach and learn,” observes Suzanne Dove, executive director of the Badavas Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.

And the new approach goes beyond the online classroom: Faculty, staff and students are working together to create not just online courses but a virtual learning community for all.

We’re encouraging faculty to maintain the culture of inquiry and the human connections they’ve carefully built with their students.
Suzanne Dove
Badavas Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning
Suzanne Dove
         Suzanne Dove

Even before announcing the switch to online classes, the university began providing support and training to faculty. The Badavas Center, together with the university Provost’s Office, Teaching and Learning Council, and Academic Technology Center, hosted interactive online workshops and one-on-one instructional sessions. An online portal — Keep Teaching @ Bentley — features ongoing tips and tools for remote teaching. Faculty members have used digital platforms such as Blackboard and Zoom to quickly adapt course assignments and establish remote office hours.

“This is a chance for all of us to learn how to use new technologies, adapt to an online learning environment and engage students in new ways,” says Dove, noting the university’s measured approach despite the speed of change. “We are being intentional, treating this as an opportunity for a major leap in organizational learning and innovating in business education.”

Communicating and connecting with students, she says, remains the top priority. “We’re encouraging faculty to maintain the culture of inquiry and the human connections they’ve carefully built with their students. In addition to maintaining academic excellence, we’re emphasizing the importance of compassion and creativity during this sudden shift.”

Academic instruction is only one part of the university's transition to online. Students can continue to call on a variety of academic support services. For example, the library offers research assistance via chat, email, phone and text. The Writing Center is providing real-time, one-on-one virtual consultations, and the Trading Room is enabling remote access to its financial databases. The online portal Keep Learning @ Bentley connects students with information and advice on topics ranging from Internet access and study skills to stress management and emergency financial assistance.

Other resources give students not just academic help but emotional and career support, too. The Counseling Center is providing one-on-one assistance to students via phone appointments and confidential, secure video chats. Advisers from the Pulsifer Career Development Center are working with corporate partners to set up job interviews via online conference tools, and they are mentoring students by phone, Skype and Zoom. Athletic coaches and support staff are staying connected with their teams and players through individual and group Zoom meetings.

Student organizations and clubs are also finding new ways to continue their activities. Student leaders are meeting virtually with faculty and staff advisers to plan social events. For example, plans are under way for team trivia contests and virtual paint nights, where students interact online while completing art projects at home. There are even plans to hold online elections for Student Government leaders and virtual fundraisers for charities supported by campus fraternities and sororities.

'I know our community is up for the challenge.'

In America and around the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting virtually every aspect of daily life. In a message to the Bentley community, President Alison Davis-Blake acknowledged the difficulties posed by the times — but also reflected on the potential for students, faculty and staff to emerge from this crisis even stronger.

“Even amid the uncertainty, our commitment to the university’s mission remains unchanged,” she said, noting that the transition to different ways of teaching, learning and working may reveal new avenues for Bentley to explore.

“Moments of great disruption can also be moments of great creativity and innovation,” Davis-Blake continued. “I know our community is up for the challenge.”