Partnerships in a Pandemic: Expanding Our Reach to Online & Distance Learners
Jennifer Hansen, Student Support Specialist & Isaac Flater, Marketing Specialist & Journal Editor
From sit-down restaurants offering curbside pickup to physicians making diagnoses via telemedicine, the pandemic has forever changed the way organizations serve their clients and the SALT Center is certainly no exception. When COVID-19 abruptly forced us to operate remotely in the spring of 2020, we knew we couldn’t simply hunker down and wait out the storm. Early on, we began strategizing and realized the pandemic had afforded us an amazing opportunity to transform our in-person services into a viable online delivery model that could support not only our current students during the pandemic, but also a separate population of students enrolled in classes through Arizona Online, the university’s fully online campus.
Turning this vision into a reality required tremendous research and preparation with close collaboration and support from our colleagues at Arizona Online and our dedicated research division, Bartlett Labs. Our primary concern throughout all of this was to ensure we could offer students in the online campus the same level of individualized support we have been able to offer in-person students for the past 40 years.
In the spring of 2020, Bartlett Labs began conducting surveys and interviews collecting information from students about how the transition to an online platform was affecting them and their learning. This information, coupled with feedback from staff and data on student engagement, emotional wellbeing, and academic performance, strengthened our resolve that we could indeed serve Arizona Online students without compromising the integrity of our program.
Having made the decision to move forward, our preparations continued into the summer as we deepened our understanding of the Arizona Online service model and its unique learning environment. As an entirely separate campus distinct from the main campus, a majority of Arizona Online classes are offered in an accelerated asynchronous format consisting of two 7.5-week sessions per semester. This is a major draw for those within the Arizona Online community, as many of them balance employment and family obligations while also attending school.
With these details in mind, we designed a customizable menu of coaching plans intended to be flexible enough to meet the varied needs of online learners. Then, at the start of the fall semester, we officially launched SALT Center Online as a pilot program. Many of the students we supported that first semester had previously been enrolled through main campus but chose to switch over because of the flexibility built into the Arizona Online experience.
While many students thrive in the fully asynchronous online environment, it is important to note the Arizona Online campus may not be the best option for every student with learning or attention differences. Participating students must be self-driven and highly motivated to succeed in accelerated online classes, especially without the benefit of in-person interactions with faculty and staff.
Regarding the collaboration, Carmin Chan, Director of Online Student Success for Arizona Online, shared:
"With the recent challenges presented by the rapid shift to remote learning, we believe it is more critical than ever to partner together across campus units and statewide locations to provide fluid options for all UArizona students. By offering robust online student support programming – like the services now offered by SALT Center Online – we are able to support all Arizona Wildcats in reaching their academic goals."
Evie S. is a student who used SALT Center Online services during the program’s first fall semester. Evie opted for the Arizona Online campus due to the pandemic and remained in her home state of North Carolina, where she has been able to balance work, school, and multiple volunteer commitments.
"Arizona has always been my top choice of universities, because of the SALT Center,” Evie shared.
As a transfer student, Evie made the final decision to attend Arizona Online because we could still provide support services to her while she remained at home. In particular, she has found our comprehensive tutoring, including our one-on-one and drop-in options, to be particularly helpful.
Although there are challenges associated with residing across the country in a different time zone, Evie reflects,
“I have been very impressed with communication from SALT [Center] tutoring and I have benefitted from having a point person to talk to, even being so far away.”
Because of the early successes we have been having with students in the Arizona Online campus, we are now proud to announce that additional distance learners enrolled in classes through the University of Arizona’s “Near You Network” will also be eligible to apply for our services. This developing partnership is yet another symbol of our enduring commitment to supporting students who learn differently, regardless of where they are in the world.
With the heavy toll the pandemic has taken on everyone over the last year, we hope our experiences in actively finding opportunities to grow and serve others in the face of adversity will provide an example of how Wildcats can work together to bear down and shine when things turn dark.