SAN MARCOS – The California State University system was the first in the nation to announce that its 23 campuses would cancel in-person learning in the fall and continue with online instruction, citing the public health threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Soon after the decision by CSU, the nation’s largest four-year public university system, other universities in the state, including Stanford and USC, announced they would do the same.
California State University at San Marcos (CSUSM), which boasts a student population of roughly 15,000, has been preparing its faculty for online instruction since the initial stay-at-home orders went into effect back in March.
Allison Carr, director of faculty at CSUSM, told The Coast News that the two platforms the university is recommending to all of its faculty are Moodle, an online learning and course management system that the campus has nicknamed Cougar Courses, and Zoom, a video conferencing platform.
CSUSM has also implemented the use of Microsoft Teams, a collaboration platform that allows teams to work together and share information in a common space.
“It looks different for every faculty member and for every course,” Carr said. “There are some faculty members who choose to meet once or twice a week with their students via Zoom, as though it’s a live lecture. There are others who interact with their students in an asynchronistic manner where they’ll maybe post a question in a discussion forum and they’ll have a conversation that way.”
Though online learning may look different depending on the specific area of study, Carr said that CSUSM has taken steps to ensure a level of consistency for their students, and that begins with training the faculty.
“We offer general guidance to faculty while still allowing for the specialized things that they would need to do for math or chemistry or an art class,” Carr said. “We created a rounded training in the form of a series of workshops that highlight principles of accessibility, equity and inclusion, and backward design.”
Backward design is a method of designing an educational curriculum where instructors identify the learning goals before choosing instructional methods by which to achieve those goals.
“What we’re asking faculty to consider in using these principles is to look at accessibility and inclusion for all students, and not just with disabilities or racial and ethnic diversity, but also in things like whether a student can turn on the video in Zoom because they have good enough internet, it’s considering that level of access, as well.”
In response to those students or faculty who may have not had access to their own laptops or internet, CSUSM held distributions over several weeks of laptops, webcams, headsets, monitors, keyboards, etc. This is equipment that had been previously used in various classrooms and labs.
With its transition to online learning, CSUSM is one of several universities nationwide that may be impacted by a new Trump administration policy that targets international students.
The directive would strip international college students of their U.S. visas if their coursework is entirely online, forcing them to either return home, transfer to programs with in-person classes, or potentially face deportation.
There are more than 1 million international students in the U.S. and more than 200,000 international students in California.
Brian Hiro, a spokesperson for CSUSM, sent the following email statement to The Coast News regarding this development:
“Like so many universities across the country, CSUSM is working to understand the policy and its potential impact on our university and international student community. Our international students are a vital and enriching part of our campus community and we value their contributions and perspectives. As we assess how these changes may impact students, we are committed to minimizing the impact of these changes to the extent possible.”
CSUSM’s fall semester classes are expected to begin on Aug. 31.