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How Tulane University Quickly Shifted to a Virtual Campus

By March 27, 2020

Leading Through Change

A Q&A with Tulane University Senior Associate Dean, Amjad Ayoubi

Many colleges and universities define themselves by their vibrant on-campus cultures, bringing together students from diverse backgrounds to live and learn in a shared space. In this unprecedented time, higher education institutions are facing a unique set of challenges and grappling with a new off-campus identity.

Adapting quickly is imperative as university leaders navigate new hurdles on a daily basis, all while keeping community, engagement, and connection at the forefront.

Amjad Ayoubi, Senior Associate Dean at Tulane University in New Orleans, provided insight into how his university transitioned to virtual learning and advising services for the school’s 7,700 undergraduate students in response to COVID-19.

Tulane University

Tulane University

What challenges are you seeing facing students and faculty in this current environment?

As we’ve transitioned our campus to online classes, we’re facing new challenges on multiple levels. On one hand, there’s the emotional piece for students with the sudden change to their normal lives as they’re forced to leave their friends, the security of school, and our vibrant campus and city culture. For those students who were working on campus to help supplement income, we worked to find ways to keep them employed. For our faculty and staff, 99% were working on campus, so our human resources team developed work from home policies.

There are also issues for students and faculty alike in shifting to online learning from our traditional in-person teaching methods. Because we are primarily a traditional campus, quickly switching over to online means getting everyone trained and ready to go, evaluating available resources, navigating IT issues, finding training resources, and adapting to new technology – all within a week.

There may have been faculty who were hesitant to move to online teaching, but we don’t have a choice right now. We’re focusing on re-framing this as a challenge to improve our skills, enhance our communication, and grow as educators.

Only about 15% of our faculty have ever taught online, which means around 85% needed to be trained to teach in this way. Thankfully, our IT’s Innovation Learning Center teamed up with our Center for Learning and Teaching and provided our faculty with online teaching workshops, hands-on assistance, and tutorials on utilizing tools like Zoom, Canvas, and LinkedIn Learning.

How is Tulane supporting students and faculty as they adjust to this new virtual learning environment?

Sometimes universities are slow to change, but this situation is forcing us to work harder and faster to quickly create a new reality. Our IT staff developed two resources for faculty and students: Teach Anywhere and Learn Anywhere.

Our Teach Anywhere Toolkit provides guidance for faculty as they shift gears from their campus classrooms to teaching remotely. The toolkit includes: a quick start checklist, best practice principles, and how to and resources section. We also made support available for faculty through a series of Teach Anywhere Workshops and one-on-one consultations. We also identified a team of students who will function as technology teaching assistants to individual faculty if requested.

The Learn Anywhere Toolkit provides resources and guidelines for students as they transition to virtual learning. We are also focused on making sure students have support available to navigate this transition through IT, Advising, and the Goldman Center for Student Accessibility.

As we move from 1:1 advising to virtual advising, our advisors play a critical role as they are on the front lines connecting with and advising students. They’ll be utilizing Salesforce to access data and ensure updated notes, communications and records for all students.

What are you doing to keep your Tulane community connected and engaged?

We’re prioritizing community by engaging students in the conversation, encouraging organizations and teams to continue their meetings virtually, and advocating for connection through virtual coffee and online hangouts. Additionally, we’re getting creative with virtual career fairs, providing virtual access to all university services and resources, and implementing online meetings for students using Zoom.

Students at Tulane University are connecting through virtual coffees and online hangouts.

Students at Tulane University are connecting through virtual coffees and online hangouts.

How are you adjusting your response plan and keeping students and faculty informed as the COVID-19 situation evolves?

With information moving and changing so fast, we’re doing our best to keep our community updated in a timely manner. The larger, community-wide challenge for us is keeping everyone engaged, connected, and together.

We’re having regular campus-wide meetings and the Tulane leadership team is talking daily and making decisions. I’m also keeping in close contact with my colleagues through the Higher Education Advisory Council, which represents universities from around the country.

With Tulane being in a hurricane area, emergency preparedness already is part of our thinking and planning. This situation is, however, obviously very different, so now it’s all about shifting our mindsets. We’re continuously updating our website, sending messages to our community, and conducting daily calls with our teams to ensure everyone has the most up-to-date information. From there, we’re quickly and effectively passing along information to students, parents, and faculty.

This is an unprecedented situation, but we’re doing our best to be proactive and keep our students and faculty informed as we navigate these new challenges together.

Join us for a webinar, Leading Your Campus in Times of Crisis, on April 1. Amjad Ayoubi and other campus leaders will share how they are leveraging online learning, managing change across campus, and supporting students, faculty and staff during this time.

Amjad Ayoubi

Amjad Ayoubi, Ph.D. is a higher education leader, consultant and speaker with interest in the intersection of the future of work, the future of education and technology. Amjad serves as Senior Associate Dean for undergraduate education at Tulane University. He oversees Academic and Career Advising, Summer School and Academic Services for Student Athletes. Amjad serves on the leadership team of Newcomb-Tulane College. Amjad joined Tulane University after Hurricane Katrina and helped rebuild Career Services operations and reengineered, grew and integrated Academic and Career Advising. He is the past chair of the Higher Education Advisory Council for Amjad was one of the first adopters of Salesforce in Higher Education with his first use case in 2001 to manage relationships with employers and university career services.