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Grant Program Enhances Distance Learning for BVU Students

November 17, 2020 6:47pm

As Buena Vista University students prepare to head home for Thanksgiving, most will pack all they need for the holidays and more, as students will finish the first semester with online instruction, an approach BVU has embraced thanks to innovative faculty and staff members, and grant assistance from the Iowa Department of Education and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) effort, a component of the U.S. Government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

BVU received nearly $75,000 in the grant program to support the purchase of software, devices, and internet connectivity to facilitate online learning, which became more prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Award amounts for colleges were based on a formula that included the number of students at each institution who receive federal Pell grants.

“GEER funding helped us eliminate any barriers students had in online and remote learning opportunities,” says Suzette Radke, BVU Vice President for Finance and Administration. “We were able to add technology to our classrooms, allowing professors to use ‘smart’ conference cameras that rotate 360 degrees to give students a look at the entire classroom.”

Additionally, BVU was able to increase its bandwidth for remote learners and double the number of licenses the University has for Zoom instruction, a necessity as students return to the their homes to finish the semester online, an adjustment made to the calendar when the fall semester began in ongoing efforts to mitigate spread of the virus.

For some students, such as sophomore Mason Peterson, of Alta, the entire semester has been conducted online, a decision he and several peers made over the summer.

“I began as a remote learner this year, virtually attending class,” says Peterson, an accounting major. “It was hard to predict what would happen with COVID-19. I felt it was safer for me to take classes from home.”

Peterson sees little difference in the manner in which he receives instruction, whether it’s in-person or via remote delivery.

“This semester, for me, at least, has been remarkably similar to what the in-person class experience would be,” he says. “I attend classes at their regular times. I participate in discussion, I ask questions. Other than me not being physically present in the classroom, it’s the same.”

“The experience with remote learning shared by Mason Peterson is what we were after,” Radke says. “We sought out to make the experience for students at home as close as we could to what they would experience within the classroom on campus. The GEER grant and the work of our professors and staff have gone a long way toward achieving this goal.”

There was an issue during class at one point when Peterson’s internet connection was cut. The professor sent Peterson a note once his internet was reconnected and helped catch him up on the portion of the lecture he missed.

“The patience and empathy of our professors has been wonderful,” says Peterson, who is taking 14 credit hours and has participated BVU Student Senate gatherings via Zoom. “If all goes well next semester, I hope to be back on campus. We’ll see how it goes. It was pretty nice last year to stand in my residence hall (Pierce/White Hall) and look out onto the football stadium and lake in the background while checking on the weather. It’s a pretty cool view.”