From his home in Kīlauea, Kauaʻi, Marvin Jake De Peralta has adjusted to taking courses at the University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu.
“In the beginning, distance learning can be tough and overwhelming,” said De Peralta, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences with a Concentration in Psychology. But with the support of the campus tutoring center and professors, De Peralta “was able to overcome my fear of taking all of my classes online.”
UH West Oʻahu has been a distance education leader among the 10-campus UH System since its beginnings. Through the recent shift to majority online learning following the COVID-19 pandemic, it leveraged its existing distance-learning infrastructure to its advantage.
“Distance learning has been a part of UH West Oʻahu’s identity since the campus first opened,” said Gloria Niles, Director of Distance Education and Coordinator of the Office of Professional Development and Academic Support at UH West Oʻahu. “DE programs originally began for the purpose of serving neighbor island students.”
However, consistent registration in online course sections demonstrates that distance modes of delivery are popular for many students located on Oʻahu as well, Niles said.
“While the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated advancement in online learning, the faculty have worked diligently to continually improve the digital learning experience for students,” she said. “The Office of Distance Learning is looking forward to leveraging these efforts to ensure that in the post-pandemic era, UH West Oʻahu is well prepared to implement what UH President David Lassner referred to as, ʻa healthy mix of in-person, hybrid, and online instruction.’ ”
A pandemic, a pivot
At the start of the spring 2020 semester, 40% of all courses at UH West Oʻahu were already fully online and 50% of student registrations were already enrolled in fully online courses.
“Having a large percentage of classes offered online and hybrid made the abrupt shift to remote learning in March 2020 a little less of a shock,” Niles said.
While many faculty members had experience teaching online, there were some for whom it was a totally new experience. While there isn’t specific data on the number of faculty who had not taught fully online prior to the shift due to the pandemic, it is estimated that about 30% of faculty had not done so, Niles said.
The most prominent need during the pivot was for resources and support for faculty and students alike.
“The IT department did a wonderful job of making sure that students and faculty had access to devices and necessary equipment to continue instruction online from home,” Niles said.
The UH West Oʻahu Office of Distance Learning partnered with instructional design teams from campuses across the system to share resources, and many of the UH campuses and the UH Online Innovation Center opened training sessions systemwide.
“For UH West Oʻahu, our primary focus initially was supporting faculty with Zoom as the campus-supported video conferencing platform, and with moving courses online to the Laulima learning management system,” Niles emphasized. “As the pandemic continued into Summer and Fall 2020 and beyond, we have invested in ongoing professional development for our faculty to learn about online pedagogy and digital technology trends supporting evidence-based practices in online, hybrid, and blended learning.”
Niles added that the pivot to remote instruction in Spring 2020, followed by the continuation of offering classes primarily online through the Summer and Fall 2020, required upgrades to classroom technology.
Computers and video cameras were upgraded in classrooms across the campus. Two smaller classrooms were converted to recording studios for faculty to deliver synchronous online instruction or record lectures for asynchronous online instruction. Also, many faculty needed an upgrade of their campus-issued computer and additional accessories to conduct online classes from home.
Past, present, and future of DE at UH West Oʻahu
“UH West Oʻahu has been committed to providing opportunities for students who are located on the neighbor islands to complete a bachelor’s degree since UH West Oʻahu first began,” Niles said.
De Peralta, of Kīlauea, appreciates what UH West Oʻahu offers to support his educational endeavors as a distance learner. He recognized UH West Oʻahu’s Noʻeau Center for providing him different resources to improve his writing skills in his writing-intensive classes and tutoring to help him understand difficult concepts, especially in his math class.
“Also to make the transition to online learning easier for me, my professors were quick to respond to any questions or concerns I had in class,” De Peralta said. “Overall, UH West Oʻahu has made me feel supported through this distance learning journey.”
Distance Education students on the neighbor islands currently account for approximately 10% of the total student population of UH West Oʻahu.
When the campus was first accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) in 1981, UH West Oʻahu was authorized to offer degrees in Business Administration, Public Administration, and Social Sciences through distance delivery.
“Originally, faculty traveled to the neighbor islands to deliver classes,” Niles said. “However, as technology evolved and the internet was established, distance delivery has continuously evolved into digital modes of delivery.”
The number of concentrations under the three original degrees offered through Distance Education has continued to grow and new degree programs are also being offered as DE programs.
“The BA in Creative Media is available as a DE program,” Niles said. “Additionally, we are working on a pilot for Secondary Education in the English content area as a DE program with students on Kauaʻi, and planning to add the English concentration as the first DE program under the BA in Humanities degree in Fall 2021.”
Also of note, UH West Oʻahu is an institutional member of the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, or NC-SARA.
“Frequently, we have students who need to relocate to another state and want to continue as a UH West Oʻahu student after relocating,” Niles said. “As a participating institution with NC-SARA, we have reciprocity that authorizes students to be located in other NC-SARA member states, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
Therefore, students can relocate to another state, and continue to enroll in courses at UH West Oʻahu as a Distance Education student.
“Additionally, we have some very unique programs at UH West Oʻahu that could be of interest to students outside of the state of Hawaiʻi, such as Hawaiian and Indigenous Health and Healing, Community Health, Health Information Management, and Long-term Care,” Niles said. “As a member of NC-SARA, if we were to offer these programs fully online in the future, students located in other states could benefit from these unique programs without having to relocate to Hawaiʻi.”