Tri-C Director On Moving All Classes Online!, By Dennis Knowles, Posted June 12th 2020

As the coronavirus spread throughout China, Tom Kemp, the executive director of online learning and academic technology at Cuyahoga Community College, began closely monitoring the growing danger.

His staff at Tri-C assembled on March 3 to discuss the looming pandemic.

“They were all looking out around the room like I was crazy,” Kemp said.

His office engineers the delivery of online content across all campuses. To Kemp, the growing epidemic didn’t feel right, and he told his staff to begin thinking about how operations might need to shift.

A week later, Kemp said officials informed him the remainder of the semester’s face-to-face classes were suspended and moving online.

“That’s when we stopped kind of operating as a small, little online, let’s-keep-our-lights-on department, and really moved towards looking holistically at what is it going to take to keep the campus alive and afloat,” he said.  

The number of online classes jumped from 2,500 to nearly 5,000, student enrollment in online classes went from 13,000 to almost 30,000. To meet demand, Kemp’s team beefed up computer systems.

“Before COVID-19, we had three terabytes of cloud storage. Now we have five,” he said.

The same thing had to be done to support the virtual learning system the college uses, Blackboard.

In the ‘90s, Tri-C began offering what was then called distance-learning classes, using shared content on computers and videoconferencing as a way of reaching off-campus students. Today, the college is a member of the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, also known as SARA, a national organization that sets uniformed standards for post-secondary distance learning.

“With few exceptions, any course can be taught effectively online. Some better,” Kemp said. “Let’s say I’m doing nursing, I can capture the nursing student applying a specific procedure, I can also look at that patient’s digital chart, or I can also show the EKG.”

The majority of instructional material comes from the faculty in the form of videos and files, like PDFs and Excel and Word documents. Some lessons come from publishers, like McGraw Hill. Eliminating in-person courses recently increased the amount of content.

“Normally we add maybe about 100 to 120 video presentations a week. Last week, it was 1,972,” he said.

Tri-C’s online learning system is able to keep track of students’ activities.

“It allows us to capture analytics as to what student went in for what tutoring and how much time did they spend with a tutor and all those kinds of things,” Kemp said.

Next semester, face-to-face classes are expected to resume and Kemp’s team will examine the impact online-only courses had on the college. For now, Kemp said he is pleased with how the system is performing and sees a bit of a silver lining.

“I think this has been a learning experience for everybody, both on the administrative and the faculty side. And I think everybody recognizes now just how important it is to have the infrastructure in place to be able to support the institution, especially for these kinds of things,” he said.