Response and Adaptation to Corona Virus
Bates College’s sudden closure in response to the Covd-19 crisis, forced students overnight to adjust to a new way of learning different from how they had been previously taught their entire lives. In the tumult of the days following the school’s closure however, these concerns alluded to another dilemma: how and where would students get academic help? In the past, the Academic Resource Commons at Bates provided an anchor for many students needing peer guidance, additional resources, or just personal reassurance. Switching remote seemed to damper this prospect. However, against all odds, the Bates ARC, made a quick and almost seamless transition to remote tutoring.
Eric Dyer, the Student Support Coordinator at Bates, was at the forefront of this transition. “We knew there was going to be a ton of disruption for Bates’ students”, says Eric Dyer “and we were determined for ARC to be a point of stability and support in that time.” The abrupt end of campus life brought uncertainty to students who now found themselves not only having to readjust to a whole new system of learning but also without any of the traditional support systems available at Bates.
Transition to a full-time remote-tutoring platform however presented many logistical challenges: mainly what would be the ARC remote objective? “We had two co-equal goals” says Dyer “to provide academic support that mapped 1:1 onto every aspect of support that we had been providing on campus, and to provide continuity of employment for all ARC Peer Educators who wished to continue working once classes resumed.” A lot of work went into this transition. Training sessions which normally took 3-4 weeks to construct, had to be completed in a week. Students continuing as Peer Educators had to adjust and prepare for the switch to remote tutoring. Coordinating objectives switched from weekly meeting to zoom sessions.
Pace was one of the biggest obstacles. Many students and managers at the ARC take pride in the reflective nature of the ARC. The work that is done strives to be thoughtful and comprehensive. “We have a chalkboard that sits at the entrance to ARC space” Dyer says “and one of my favorite messages ever on that board is the apocryphal proverb, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.’ In this case, we had some serious distance to cover, and we had to do it awfully fast.”
The innovative nature of the ARC space in many ways, gave the enterprise a leg up in the process. Yearly independent students projects have encouraged new ways of approaching peer learning, and already remote tutoring was being piloted by a peer educator. “We are so fortunate that one of our Writing Fellows, Amanda Becker, had taken on exploring and beta testing remote writing support as a project this year.” says Dyer. “It really gave us enough runway to get off the ground in such a short time. It was such a group effort, but there were also so many moments where individuals just shone so brightly. It was a little bit overwhelming and inspiring.”
There were many practical issues that the ARC faced during the transition, mainly how to readjust to new pedagogies that remote tutoring would require.“Logistically, we took a very pragmatic, scattershot approach; we were very open to looking at every aspect of our support individually, and tailoring the details of how it would happen to the needs localized there.” Recognizing that the technical needs for an intro chemistry class may not be the same for a politics seminar, the ARC took a very specialized approach to remote tutoring. Some tutors expected to continue 1-on-1s with students, while others planned group meetings.
Naturally, remote learning poses a fundamental problem: its impersonal nature is antithetical to the personalized approach of a liberal arts education. Students used to having very intimate classes now have the prospect of their only interaction with their professors being weekly email exchanges. This concern is not lost on Dyer. “I’d say the biggest challenge we’ve faced is that so much of the excellent work our Peer Educators do is fundamentally interpersonal” says Dyer, “It’s difficult to make those connections remotely [and] in a lot of ways there’s just no substitute for sitting together in the same place and working together on the same challenge”
Through hard work, flexibility, and real-time feedback implementation, the ARC managed to continue support for almost all previous subjects.“We’ve been quite successful in our goal to provide support that maps 1:1 onto what we were providing pre-COVID, which feels like a pretty great success!” says Dyer. Tutors that once occupied the Writing Center and Content Tutoring space, now occupied a new remote space, the WC Online, with their hours mostly in line with the previous times that they were available. Students were given the opportunity to either schedule directly with the tutor beforehand, or drop into an remote session. Whether working collaboratively or one-on-one students Prior to the schools’ closure, the ARC provided a space for its employees to say goodbye. Looking back on the sudden farewell that he had to say to students that he had been working with for years, Dyer reflected on the difficulty of the current situation. “I’ve enjoyed working with many of them since their sophomore year, and if it wasn’t going to be possible to say goodbye formally at Commencement, it only seemed right to be there to honor them on their sudden departure,” says Dyer. “It bears repeating that everything we’ve done to take ARC remote has been a tremendous group effort, and I’m immensely grateful for all the collaboration and labor that went into making it happen.” The possibility of moving to remote class in the Fall of 2020, looms as no end appears to the crisis. With the new remote platform ready to go and improving throughout the semester, though it looks as if the ARC will be prepared to meet the challenge.