Rising to the Challenges of Remote Instruction

April 27, 2020

Gerol Petruzella

Associate Director of Academic Technology Gerol Petruzella works in one of the Bowman Hall classrooms MCLA's Center for Academic Technology set up for faculty members, who are able to drop in and record lectures and other materials for their remote classes. 

Earlier this year, as reports about COVID-19 began appearing in the news, Gerol Petruzella, MCLA’s associate director of academic technology, took note.

“There were definitely a period of weeks during which I was aware of how COVID-19 was spreading and thinking, ‘how would we respond if we needed to move the campus online? What would have to happen?’” he said. 

Then, it happened. 

When Massachusetts State Universities together made the decision to move to remote instruction as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, that mission became more urgent, with a close-approaching deadline: classes at MCLA would begin remotely on March 30, two weeks after spring break.

In normal times, MCLA’s Center for Academic Technology, headed by Petruzella, supports and empowers faculty to create quality instructional materials, including help with instructional design, Canvas, the College’s learning management system, and other tools. In the time of COVID-19, it mobilized to respond to immediate needs.

First, Academic Technology and the MCLA Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) came together to get the faculty community ready for remote learning before March 30. The CTL provides professional development opportunities for faculty and is headed by Ruby Vega, assistant professor of psychology and faculty development fellow, along with guidance from the CTL Advisory Committee, of which Petruzella is a member. 

“Our goal was—and isto support faculty in both using educational technology successfully to teach their students remotely, and supporting them in developing a realistic plan for remote leaning under these very challenging conditions,” said Vega.

The CTL worked with Academic Affairs, the Freel Library staff, and eight faculty mentors to provide professional development opportunities around online instruction. 

All experienced Canvas users, these faculty mentors (Tara Barboza, Business Department; Anne Goodwin, Biology; Alyssa Dufresne, Radiology; Lisa Donovan, Fine and Performing Arts; Guangzhi Huang, Interdisciplinary Studies; Erin Kiley, Math; Shawn McIntosh, English; and Kebra Ward, Physics), acted as liaisons between academic technology and MCLA’s academic departments, collecting questions, concerns, and professional development requests.

“That really stands out to me in terms of something amazing that came out of this,” Petruzella said. “Just to have those faculty members step forward and become academic technologists, helping their peers through a really unexpected and potentially stressful time.” 

Next, the CTL worked to prepare mcla.edu/remoteready, a collection of resources for faculty and students that went live before remote instruction began. There, students and faculty can find out how to save their files to the cloud, manage their stress, join Skype meetings, use lab software at home, find reduced internet rates, and more.

“We wanted to put ourselves in the shoes of students and faculty facing this,” Petruzella said. That meant figuring out the most useful resources to share, then making them immediately available and accessible no matter what device a person might be using.” 

Among many other things, Petruzella made sure every single MCLA course (more than 500 courses in total) was available on Canvas, and created a stripped-down interface as an adjustment for those who didn’t regularly use Canvas for their courses. He and MCLA’s Media Services Manager Aaron Bieniek set up three rooms in Bowman Hall where faculty can drop in to record lectures and other materials for their classes.

Petruzella said it’s important to note that a short-term shift to remote learning doesn’t reflect the true theory and practice of online teaching and learning; it’s a stopgap measure.

“What we’re doing this semester is not online learning, by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “This is emergency remote teaching. We’re trying to do the best we can with zero prep and a minimum amount of time and space to do what we need to do. My background in academic technology has been an invaluable foundation—and that has been incredibly helpful and necessary to work through this process.” 

“I am impressed and proud with the way everyone has risen to this challenge,” Vega said. “It's incredibly difficult to balance what’s best for students’ learning with what is reasonable to expect of them, and ourselves, at a time like this. It has been my experience so far that faculty are approaching this situation very thoughtfully, and creatively, and with great care for our students.” 

“There’s been a wonderful response from the faculty community,” Petruzella said. “They understand the need for this. We all understand this is less than ideal; we’re not really teaching the way we wish we could. We want to be there for our students however we can be—in messy or imperfect ways, but we’re still here."


Are you an MCLA student, alum, or faculty member? Do you want MCLA to share your story? Please email Creative and Brand Strategy Manager Francesca Olsen at Francesca.Olsen@mcla.edu.