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A Colorado College Shares Struggles And Joys Of Online Classes During Pandemic

Apr 13, 2020

All 11 of Colorado Mountain College's campuses transitioned to online learning due to COVID-19. One administrator said that move has opened their eyes to how much learning can be done virtually.
Credit Colorado Mountain College / Facebook

Alexa Vorhees, 20, graduates in May from Colorado Mountain College’s Glenwood Springs campus with an associates of arts degree after working hard for several years to maintain all A’s. 

Vorhees looked forward to having her grandmother fly in from out-of-state to watch her walk across the graduation stage, but all in-person Colorado Mountain College graduation ceremonies were canceled

“I’m really bummed,” Vorhees said. “I was really excited to get to graduate and celebrate with my family.”

She will still graduate, but she and the other 700 Colorado Mountain College graduates will not be celebrated with a traditional ceremony. That’s because the COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools to postpone or cancel events like graduation. 

Gov. Jared Polis closed schools across Colorado, and told them to transition to online learning until the spread of COVID-19 slows. 

Colorado Mountain College offers some online classes, but the transition has been challenging.

“I think of it as a challenge or an opportunity for students and me as their teacher to engage in a different way,” said Rhynus Cesark, an associate professor of art at CMC’s Aspen campus.

K Rhynus Cesark is an associate professor of art at Colorado Mountain College's Aspen campus. Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has moved in-person classes to online, she's had to change her methods of teaching.
Credit Courtesy Photo / K Rhynus Cesark

Rhynus Cesark decided to go deeper on topics like the chemistry behind ceramic glaze for example, because her students can’t be hands on with clay and other materials right now. 

“I know that mostly everyone is looking forward to returning to face-to-face instruction in the future,” she explained. “But for now, they’ve expressed how much they like having our virtual meetings to look forward to and that it’s a way to be engaged and learn.”

One thing all education institutions are struggling with is access to technology. With students spread across 11 campuses, Colorado Mountain College administrators said they wouldn’t be able to give every student a computer. So they extended withdrawal dates from courses to help students who may not have financial or technological resources.

The school also waived tuition, fees and textbook costs for some students for the upcoming summer semester. 

“We've tried to help take some pressure and stress out of thinking ‘Oh my gosh, I have to be online and I've never done this before and I'm really questioning if I can be successful in this environment,’” Kathryn Regjo, vice president of academic affairs at Colorado Mountain College, said.

"It's always the connection between students and faculty that invoke that curiosity and exploration."

Even with struggles with technology and having to transition so quickly from in-person to online learning, Regjo said she is confident professors are offering the same level of education they were when they taught in an actual classroom.

“You have to create that inspiration and that curiosity for learning, and the material all by itself doesn't do that,” Regjo said. “It's always the connection between students and faculty that invoke that curiosity and exploration.”

Rhynus Cesark said she’s actually noticed stronger connections with students now that her classes are virtual. 

“I think I've made myself probably more available to my students during this crisis” Rhynus Cesark said. “And I've had in some instances even more contact one-on-one and in a group, because I believe very strongly that continuing to have that connection will help foster their creativity and their growth as a student and as an artist.” 

But Vorhees said the transition to online for her creative writing class has been challenging. 

“It was nice to get to go to campus and be in a room with a bunch of other creative writers who could share their opinions with you in real time,” Vorhees said. “Now with online classes it's kind of lost a little bit. It's definitely strange.”

The college acknowledges this is a strange time, but it’s also opened eyes to the possibilities of more online learning. The college announced Thursday they will honor graduates like Vorhees with a virtual ceremony on May 15.