MiraCosta College Academic Support Services Thriving During a Pandemic

01/6/2021 Bookmark and Share

Talk about trial by fire. With the COVID-19 pandemic leading to the closure of libraries and state-of-the-art tutoring centers, MiraCosta College faculty and professional staff were forced to quickly transition their academic support services to online platforms—with nothing less than the educational success of more than 15,000 students hanging in the balance. The MiraCosta College Tutoring & Academic Support Center deftly pivoted to drop-in, one-on-one appointments, in-class help, and student success workshops—all through online platforms. The MiraCosta College Library, in addition to growing its free laptop and mobile hotspot lending program, saw its “Ask A Librarian” staff engage in more than 1,100 online chats with students seeking help with their studies—and that doesn’t include hundreds of additional sessions with non-MiraCosta College librarians available during off hours. The STEM and Math Learning centers, along with the Library and Writing Center, provide online breakout rooms for individual and group study in addition to preview and review sessions for specific courses with expanded hours to cover late nights and weekends. And the Writing Center now offers all of its services on Sunday.

“MiraCosta pulled off a miracle in that, in every way possible, as the pandemic continued to rage on, we were there for our students,” said Writing Center Faculty Director Denise Stephenson, who pointed to data showing those using online support services in the fall fared far better on several student success metrics than their counterparts who did not utilize the cost-free help.

Web Services Librarian Lauren McFall agreed. “With the Library not being physically open, it was really important to find a way to be where our students are,” said McFall. “We’ve been pretty proactive in reaching out and meeting them where they are and providing services that are making a difference.”
Students logged on to the Library’s homepage more than 30,000 times during the fall semester alone.

“Exactly what I needed,” said one student taking part in a college survey. “I use the drop-in during my 30-minute break at my job,” said a Writing Center student. “I know I can squeeze in a chat with a coach about my writing and then go back to work.”

The transition wasn’t simple. At the Tutoring and Academic Support Center, also known by its acronym of TASC, faculty and professional staff provided comprehensive training for more than two dozen peer tutors, who also were provided a tutor-produced handbook with strategies on effective online learning.

“You don’t just throw everything online and say, ‘Okay, we’re done,’” said TASC Faculty Director Edward Pohlert. “You have to learn new technology and then apply the most effective ways of bringing students to the online environment. You have to train your tutors in effectively using Zoom for the task at hand. You have to make sure the tools are easy to navigate. In the end, we were able, in a short amount of time, to personalize our academic support services for the online modality.”

TASC’s new online services include drop-in tutoring for courses ranging from Accounting 101 to Advanced Cybersecurity. In addition, academic assistance is provided daily with programming and eight part-time coaches targeting first-generation college students. In all, Pohlert notes more than 1,400 students utilized online TASC services in the fall semester. 

One of the biggest benefits for students is the significantly expanded hours. “In the past, we were constrained to some extent by the building,” said Scott Fallstrom, Faculty Director at the STEM and Math Learning centers. “We could only be open for so many hours and so many days. Those constraints don’t exist anymore.”

Nearly 600 different students took advantage of the STEM and Math Learning centers’ added opportunities, with many, if not most, logging in several times. More than 6,100 interactions were logged over the fall semester in all.

For those unfamiliar with the new normal, TASC, the Library, the Writing Center, and the STEM and Math Learning centers all include tutorials for how services work. The Welcome to the Online Writing Center Video on the Writing Center webpage provides step-by-step guidance for getting the most out of the service. Anyone logging on for STEM and Math Learning center tutoring is immediately welcomed by a staffer as part of an effort to ease any anxieties newcomers may have.

“We wanted to make sure we had a person, a live person, just to say, ‘Hi, how can we help you,’ to greet anyone who dropped in,” Fallstrom said. “We saw that as being critically important.”

Added Stephenson, “Being forced to move online on such short notice was, in some ways, a gift. We’ve expanded our hours and we’re available wherever our students may be.”

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