The What, How and Why of our Fall Course Schedule

I have been fielding a lot of questions from our students, graduates, and our stakeholders on the "what", "how" and "why" of our recently announced fall course schedule at Illinois Central College and specifically for our Paralegal, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice courses. The following is a message I shared with my colleagues from the American Association for Paralegal Education as guidance for those who have not yet set their course for the quickly approaching fall terms. The “why” is sprinkled into the responses to “what” we will call the mode assigned to our courses and “how” we will deliver those courses in our programs.

On the "what" question, we are offering 4 different modalities at Illinois Central College and we settled on these designations. 

  1. Online Anytime (asynchronous-while there are deadlines each week, there are no set times students are required to log in)
  2. Online on a Schedule (synchronous-students are expected to log in for a live class session at on a scheduled day(s) and time(s))
  3. Hybrid (reserved for courses with lab or student interaction expectations that instructor and students are unable to duplicate in a virtual environment)
  4. Internship and Clinical courses

Our Paralegal and Criminal Justice courses were already scheduled as either synchronous online, traditional in-class, or hybrid courses. With the restrictions and expectations of the state and the logistics of our campus, buildings, and classrooms, the college decided that we would limit student access to campus and reserve that access to programs and courses that require hands-on demonstrations or labs. So other than our Ag and Industrial Tech, Health Career programs, and a handful of other courses, we will not have students on campus.

The challenges of building logistics, the lack of an ability to space the typical number of students in our typical classroom, on top of the challenges of having enough qualified instructors, hours in the day, or dollars in the budget to present the additional "in-class" experiences, required that we take a hard look at what we were able to offer in-person and on-campus for the fall semester. In other words, we would be limited on the number of classes we could run at the same time in the same hallway so as to avoid those students passing in the hallway. We would be challenged on maintaining the expected traffic flow within hallways. And where I might teach a class of 30 students in a typical classroom last fall, I would now need to teach that course likely three different times with 10 students in each section.

On top of those challenges, we have the expectation that some students will be unwilling or unable to come to campus for the on-campus, in-class sessions during the pandemic. In our state, the expectation is that we would make that in-class experience available to those students virtually.

As to the "how" question, the fall schedule for our public service-oriented programs was already set up with courses being offered either Online (synchronous) and Hybrid. Our schedule changes were fairly simple. The courses already scheduled as Online received a new name, Online Anytime. The courses scheduled as Hybrid are now Online on a Schedule. Courses that were scheduled to be entirely on campus will also become Online on a Schedule courses. The expectations for what would have formerly been on campus, in-class attendance, and live instructor-student interaction will now be on scheduled days and times. Students will be expected to log in, be visible, participate in class, and do all the things we would have done on campus in these courses. The major difference is that the “classroom” will either Zoom or Google Meets.

Students will log in from home. I will be teaching from the smallest bedroom in our empty nest. This bedroom has been transformed into a pretty decent office over the past 4 months, in reality, a much better office than any of the closet size individual or dank, shared office spaces faculty are typically assigned on-campus. It isn't ideal. But it could be worse. Some of my younger colleagues have children learning from home, they are teaching from the kitchen table because that is the only available workspace in their home.

Faculty now carry some of the overhead expenses of the college. I have had to invest in upgraded ISP and a new router, along with any number of other things the college would otherwise be providing or supporting. The college has seen savings on things like utility costs, but our home utility costs, ISP costs, and other expenses have gone up and faculty and staff working from home will continue to shoulder these increased expenses.

But the biggest challenge for me personally is the inability to see my students, my colleagues, and our community stakeholders face to face. It is actually depressing at times, especially when I think about the prospects of not being able to see and really get to know my students in the same manner I have over my career in education. But it is what it is. And we are all making the best of it.

The one positive of the tumultuous end to the spring semester, and the craziness of a summer term that flew by way too fast, is that our students demonstrated the traits that drew me to and kept me at our community college for the past 23 years. Our students continue to show me their heart, their commitment, and their ability to adjust and get the job done under changing and less than ideal circumstances.

Whatever this next academic year brings, I am confident that we will move qualified, competent graduates into their chosen career path.

Wash your Hands, Wear your Mask, Exercise, Eat Well, Be Kind to Yourself and Others, and while keeping a Safe Distance, please Stick Together. And we'll get to the other side.

Tom Higgins, Professor, Criminal Justice and Paralegal Studies and Faculty Forum President, Illinois Central College