The pervasive coronavirus pandemic has forced schools and educational institutions to implement virtual means of learning”, and Sacred Heart Major Seminary is no exception.
As a result of the pandemic, winter semester courses earlier this year were transferred online with very little time to spare. Fortunately, the seminary was offering virtual learning platforms before the pandemic, such as the Canvas Learning Management System, Zoom, and Panopto Video Recording, which expedited the process. To help further streamline the transition, Sacred Heart deployed a team of faculty and staff to provide practical support.
A number of faculty members were on this task force. Dr. John Gresham, Director of Distance Education and Online Learning, published a weekly newsletter Remote Teaching Tips and Techniques to help faculty circumvent digital hurdles. Mr. Ryan Cahill, Director of Admissions and Enrollment Management, who is in the research stages of a doctorate in educational technology, serves Sacred Heart as an Educational Technology Specialist. Melissa Pordon, Institute for Lay Ministry Coordinator aided the faculty in building their online classes. Jeff Mesch and Dave Policelli of the SHMS IT Department were also involved.
“With this support team in place, Dean of Studies Fr. Laboe felt confident in moving the entire curriculum online for the upcoming Spring semester,” Gresham said.
Along with Cahill, Gresham is teaching a course for Sacred Heart faculty called ‘Faithful Practices of Online Christian Educators.’
“This course introduces faculty to practices and principles of online pedagogy from a faith-based perspective,” Gresham said With the tools, training and support provided, faculty are empowered to offer online courses that offer the same intellectual richness, spiritual transformation and pastoral preparation as our traditional classroom courses.”
Sacred Heart faculty responded to the call for virtual learning with aplomb, making these structural adjustments quickly and efficiently.
“Within a single weekend the faculty at Sacred Heart suddenly had to transfer all our courses to an online format,” said Dr. Mary Healy, Professor of Sacred Scripture.
“Talking to a screenful of faces is very different from interacting in person, but it went better than I expected. The students responded with patience, goodwill, and humor,” Healy says.
The use of interactive video conferencing and online discussion will continue into the Spring Term, which begins on May 4th. Sacred Heart’s diligent distance learning efforts will immerse students in an environment and community of learners in which they can still make connections with fellow students and teachers, even while socially isolating.