Written from a CECU webinar with Dr. Art Keiser, Chancellor, Keiser University and Sherry Olsen, M.B.A., Associate Vice Chancellor, Online Division, Keiser University
In the last few weeks, local, state and federal officials have created regulations and recommendations surrounding COVID-19 that have changed on a daily, or even an hourly basis.
As Americans adapted their lives while learning new terms like personal protection equipment and social distancing, many schools and universities were forced to do the same as they abruptly closed their on-site programs and transitioned to an online platform. But the transition hasn’t been seamless for all.
To be successful, any transition has to be done as a team, including both employees and students, and for the long term, said Art Keiser, chancellor of Keiser University and Southeastern College.
“We are praying that this is only a short-term event … but we don’t know,” Keiser said. “Schools must act as if they have to stay alive in the online mode. That means admissions, financial aid, recruiting, registrar functions, student services and all the functions that are part of your institution. You need to be operating as if this is your future.”
You also need to defend against revenue declines.
“We can’t survive if we do not receive whatever we need in order to pay the bills, salaries and other obligations,” Keiser said. “There may be some help along the way from the federal government, but I promise you it will not be enough to keep you alive.”
“Cash is king,” Keiser said. “Look at your burn rates. Look at the amount you have in reserves. What are you going to cut if you lose 10 percent, 25 percent or 50 percent of your students?
“Be prepared, and in all cases, protect your students,” he said. “Make sure the students are participating online and are not dropping out.”
If schools haven’t already done so, they need to immediately develop a plan, knowing that student behavior may change in non-reversible ways.
“It’s really important that you recognize that this is a game-changing experience,” Keiser said. “But it is something that career schools of America are better prepared to respond to than institutions that are old and unable to make the change as necessary.”
Transitioning to online only is not easy, acknowledged Sherry Olsen, associate vice chancellor for the online division at Keiser University. “Everyone has to keep in mind that this transition affects the lives of our students, our educators and our administrators alike,” she said. “It’s not just about what happens in the online classroom. Strong support services are key for all.”
You also need to be ready for unprecedented demand. And that can be difficult, as transitioning brick and mortar faculty to an online platform can sometimes be more challenging for teachers than students, Olsen said. You have to help faculty through the transition and provide 24/7 help if you are to be successful, she added.
Keiser University offers a faculty training center and provides new online faculty members with one month of training before they can teach online. During the transition to online only, that training was made available to their brick and mortar faculty as well. The training center is manned by their full-time online faculty members, and offers faculty help 24/7.
One of the other ways they help faculty is through email distributions. “For example, our instructional design team has an email distribution as does our online dean team,” Olsen said. “So the faculty can also email those two distribution (lists) and they get a response within a couple of hours or 24 hours at the most.”
They also expanded their hours for the online division, making sure that students and faculty have the support they need.
A help desk is open 24/7 and provides additional help and resources. “If faculty or staff members forget their login or their password at 3 o’clock in the morning, they can call and get the help that they need,” she said.
In addition, Keiser University added more campus support during the transition to online, having online faculty assisting with things like how to conduct live lectures using Blackboard Collaborate, or uploading files.
“We assigned three of our online faculty members to each campus,” Olsen said. “These three full-time faculty members per campus were enrolled in all the campus companion courses, so that when that faculty member calls the mentor, they could go right into that classroom and see what the problem is. Some of them have actually done their live lectures in tandem with that faculty member so they can see how to use their webcams with the students.”
They also made their instructional design team available, Olsen said, providing live training sessions from 3-6 p.m. Monday through Friday and daily office hours from 2-5 p.m.
But support to students is also important as you transition them online, Olsen said.
“It’s not just about the online classroom or technology; it’s about having those support services,” she said.
To transition face-to-face students to online, Keiser University copied its online student orientation into their Blackboard nodes at every campus, giving those face-to-face students their own online orientation. The deans, associate deans and faculty from each campus were able to add things to the orientation that pertain to their campus, such as announcements or contact information.
Prior to transitioning to an online format, all the brick and mortar campuses conducted sessions for their ground-based students in computer labs and auditoriums. The students learned how to log into Blackboard, where to find their course and how to navigate the online orientation. Then they were told to go home and practice in the online student orientation.
“Plus we have a very robust online writing center where students can submit their papers and get feedback,” she said. “We also have a math help center because a lot of students haven’t had Algebra or taken college math in a while. Both of these centers are manned by our live faculty members.”
To make sure brick and mortar students transition effectively online, you must provide frequent, consistent and simplified communication every day of the week, Olsen said.
While Keiser University has a fairly sophisticated online delivery system, it isn’t necessary to have all that technology if you maintain effective communications with your students, Keiser said.
“For your staff, it’s really important that the management of your organization continues,” he said. “The deans need to be checking to see that the students are logging in and are acting in the web platform, no matter which one you’re using. If the students are not logging in, they are likely drops … and they need to be contacted immediately by phone.”
Schools also need to find out if students aren’t logging in because they have technology or other issues, and it’s a similar story for admissions. “You need to be able to get your inquiries to your admission counselors quickly and almost immediately,” Keiser said. “You need to have your admission counselors working.”
In fact, you need to make it clear to your admission counselors and to your financial aid people that they need to be sitting at a desk at their home as if it is their regular office.
“They must work harder than they do at their office and they need more discipline and internal structures to get this done,” he said. “Your managers need to follow up, follow up and follow up.”
Olsen said Keiser University has partnered with Acadeum consortium group so that they are now servicing and providing online classes to over 40 other institutions throughout the U.S.
“What we’re seeing is that there are a lot of smaller schools that just can’t afford to start online,” she said. “This consortium has helped a lot of these schools stay in business because these students have an option to take a class for grade forgiveness or even for graduation purposes.”
Keiser added: “The advantage of a consortium is you can place a student in a particular course that’s offered by 50-60 different institutions. Basically, your student’s tuition will cover the cost of the course to the provider. There’s a discount at each level, but the student is still in school and gaining college credit.”
However, you’ll want to check with your own accrediting body first, Olsen said, noting that they have an agreement where they actually transfer the credit to that institution.
Small schools should also check out Learning Management Systems, many of which are now offering support services at extremely reduced rates, Olsen said. There are a lot of products that can be used for online learning — Blackboard Collaborate, Canvas, Desire to Learn, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and others. Each helps to improve the online learning experience, and schools need to choose the one that they think will work best for their institution, she said.
Olsen said Keiser University also has Ally software built into its online environment, ensuring that online classrooms are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.
“There are tools where a student can download Mp4s if they want to listen to a lecture or maybe there’s a PowerPoint, but they want to hear it,” Olsen said. “There’s even a braille component if they have the right tools at home.”
In addition, they use Predict, a retention tool embedded in all of the online classrooms, allowing faculty to track at-risk students.
It’s not unusual for schools and faculty to feel disconnected from students during these trying times.
“During the pandemic, so many people are online,” Olsen said. “We have a lot of bandwidth at all of our campuses. But when people go home, that’s when they might experience some of the issues because so many people are streaming videos, kids are online doing homework and people are working from home.”
Olsen said she recommends that faculty do live lectures in the evening. “Maybe do one 6-7 p.m., or 7-8 p.m. or even 9-10,” she said. “Ask the students when they can attend so there’s less people online around the world.”
To add diversity to a class, add a guest to speak at your online classes. “Using guest lecturers, especially when students are home and not used to doing online instruction, might help to keep them engaged,” she said.
Putting a structure in place is important for schools with no current online course delivery, particularly when they need to get started as quickly as possible.
“A lot of schools assume that faculty will just go home and use technology like Zoom and teach their class,” Olsen said. “But you need to have a structure in place before you ask faculty to go home and do that.”
For instance, you need to decide such things as how faculty will do their lessons and collect student homework.
“You don’t have to have a sophisticated system, but you should be having faculty meetings ahead of time and determine the software that you want to use,” Olsen said. “Even with Microsoft Teams, you can upload documents and your administrators could go in and keep track of students.”
Not surprisingly, teaching lab courses online is particularly challenging.
“We have massage therapy in our Southeastern campuses, and it is a challenge for students to give the required number of massages with social distancing,” Keiser said. “Unfortunately, we will have to postpone graduations until we can get approval to bring clients back in for the students to get the number of massages that are necessary.”
Florida allows nursing students to do 50 percent of their clinical training in SIM labs. “While we were still open, we operated day and night to give the students those clinical hours,” Keiser said. “But the accrediting commission won’t let us do anything with our SURG students from a simulation standpoint. We will have to extend the students throughout and try to give them as much didactic and academic experience while the situation still exists.”
Schools must also handle enrollment and payment options electronically with the move to online.
“The technology is there,” Keiser said. “A lot of people say they’re watching their accounts receivable and making sure that students are making their monthly payments just like they would before. But you’ll obviously have to be as flexible as possible.”
ARTHUR KEISER, PH.D., as the Chancellor of Keiser University, oversees and manages all operations at 20 Florida campuses, international campuses, the Online Division, and Graduate School. Under his four decades of leadership, Keiser University – a private, not-for-profit university – has grown into Florida’s second largest independent university and is regionally accredited at Level VI by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS).
Beginning with just one student and two employees in 1977, Keiser University today offers more than 100 doctoral, master’s, bachelor’s, and associate degrees, has nearly 66,000 alumni, 20,000 students, and employs over 3,800 team members. Dr. Keiser maintains his role at the helm of Keiser University which recently celebrated its 40th year serving the state of Florida with an annual economic impact of $3 billion and 30,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Dr. Keiser has served the higher education community in various capacities on national and state levels. Currently in his third term, he is chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI). He has also served as Chairperson of both the Board of Directors of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU) and the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT). Dr. Keiser is a former member of the Jacob K. Javits Fellows Program Fellowship Board and a gubernatorial appointee to the State Board of Independent Colleges and Universities and the State Board of Independent Postsecondary, Vocational, Technical, Trade and Business Schools. Dr. Keiser has also served as President of the Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges (FAPSC). He is a former Team Leader for the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools Accrediting Commission and was a member of the Appeals Panel.
As the guest of the Secretary General of China, he presented to foreign educators on the topics of Building International Campuses and Career Education in the United States. Dr. Keiser has led Keiser University’s international growth with campuses in San Marcos, Nicaragua; Shanghai, China; and Eastern Europe.
Contact Information: Dr. Arthur Keiser // Chancellor and CEO // Keiser University // 954-776-4476 // firstname.lastname@example.org // www.keiseruniversity.edu
SHERRY OLSEN is the Associate Vice Chancellor for Keiser University’s distance education division. In addition to serving as the President of the Online Division, Olsen manages the online environment for distance learners of sixteen (16) Keiser University campuses throughout the state of Florida and overseas. Her vision for improved higher education efficacy in the areas of online, asynchronous, and hybrid education has led Olsen to expand the quality and content of the Keiser University Online Division curriculum, and student accessibility to its services.
Olsen started her career in education in 1998 as an environmental science teacher. Her passion for the field has led her to hold positions such as University Department Chair, Dean of Academics, Senior Vice President for Online Education, and finally, Associate Vice Chancellor. Olsen is committed to education and understands its social and economic impact on the Broward County community and beyond. She has served on the SACS advisory board for Nova Middle School and has been a guest speaker at the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) annual conference, presenting on online student and faculty retention, and the incorporation of successful and accurate assessments in the online environment, among other topics. She has also presented her expertise at the APSCU/CCA Leadership Institute and FAPSC annual conference. Olsen is currently a Ph.D. candidate of the Keiser University Industrial and Organizational Psychology program.
Contact Information: Sherry Olsen // Associate Vice Chancellor Online Division // Keiser University // 954-351-4040 Ext. 118 // email@example.com // www.keiseruniversity.edu