Virginia Tech School of Education alumni, faculty, and students have united to help colleagues on four continents adjust to virtual instruction amid COVID-19.

The collaborative efforts have been led by alumnus Matthew Ames, who earned his Ph.D. in instructional design and technology in the School of Education, and Visiting Assistant Professor Alicia Johnson.

Ames serves as an instructional technologist and an assistant professor at the University of Global Health Equity, a health sciences university based in Rwanda. Earlier this year, he began building a blended online learning program for master’s students at the university.

Johnson quickly offered to assist.

“I asked Matt if he needed any help from our instructional designers here at Virginia Tech,” said Johnson, who also earned her Ph.D. in instructional design and technology at Virginia Tech. “We agreed that our colleagues in the Virginia Tech Technology-Enhanced Learning and Online Strategies division and the College of Engineering could help with usability testing.”

But plans changed when COVID-19 emerged as a pandemic this spring. Virginia Tech and the University of Global Health Equity joined universities around the world in a rapid shift to remote teaching.

“The pandemic moved our transition to a blended online format at a faster rate,” said Ames. “When 2020 began, the intention was to put only some of our master’s programs online. Now we are putting a major portion of the courses online in addition to several medical school courses.”

Ames said faculty members and visiting medical doctors at the University of Global Health Equity needed to learn strategies for online instruction. The university offers a degree path through its medical school and a master’s of global health program.

Campus of the University of Global Health Equity. Courtesy of Matthew Ames.
Campus of the University of Global Health Equity. Courtesy of Matthew Ames.

“I reached out to senior students in our Instructional Design and Technology Program as well as our alumni across the United States,” said Johnson. “The students are all either graduate assistants or are working full-time helping faculty develop online courses. The alumni are all educators or directors of online learning at their universities.”

Then Johnson checked with fellow instructional design and technology faculty with expertise in online learning.

“Everyone I asked said they’d love to join in this effort,” said Johnson. “Ever since, we’ve been producing a series of webinars to help educators provide the best online instruction possible.”

The primary goal of the webinars is to introduce and teach faculty about the facets of e-learning. “These webinars demonstrate that e-learning is not simply putting content into course management systems, but actually encompasses a larger world of study,” said Johnson.

Faculty members in Australia, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States are benefitting from the training sessions.

Johnson is coordinating the production of the webinars, set to continue running through the fall.

Ames credited his colleagues and Virginia Tech’s Instructional Design and Technology Program with preparing graduates for careers in solving real-world problems in education.

“The Virginia Tech School of Education is on the cutting edge of innovation and improving opportunity and access to education at home and abroad,” said Kristin Gehsmann, director of the School of Education. “This project illustrates the good that comes from having both the will and skill to solve challenging problems.”

— Written by Andrew Adkins