Opinion: Realizing the Northwood Idea and Earning National Tech Recognition

Jeanna R. Cronk, Ed.D.
Northwood engaged employees from across the University to plan, implement, and support this in-person and RTO hybrid.

During the spring and summer of 2020 Northwood University was busy preparing for a fall semester that would be unlike anything prior. We decided to integrate a Real-time Online (RTO) BlueJeans Meetings option within Northwood University’s fall in-person courses to give our students the freedom to make a personal choice based on their comfort level, medical history and family needs. Northwood engaged employees from across the University to plan, implement, and support this in-person and RTO hybrid, but it was the faculty members’ persistence and willingness to explore this new model that really stood out.

We had the ability to adjust classroom spaces and follow health guidelines while conducting courses on our campus, but we knew that each individual deserved the freedom to choose the teaching and learning approach they felt personally comfortable with. Our faculty and our students were given the option of an RTO format where they could join a synchronous video call through BlueJeans by Verizon, the cloud-based video-audio platform that we had been using for many years.

To prepare for the new course modality, our academic leadership team, IT department and the Center for Excellence combined efforts to offer advanced BlueJeans training, provide each instructor with wireless headsets and equip the classrooms with cameras. We also conducted practice sessions and created cohorts of faculty members that could support one another while preparing their lessons. As safety procedures were posted and followed in buildings, classrooms and dorms, we knew that our students would also need to understand the procedures necessary to successfully navigate this new RTO system. Every student was automatically enrolled in an RTO support course to provide access to expert online guidance, documentation, and as another point of personalized connection.

The hybrid RTO format did have its share of problems. Instructors had to troubleshoot audio or video issues while also teaching their class. We found ourselves avoiding writing on wall-mounted whiteboards, forgetting to stay in range of the web cameras and needing to talk louder behind our face masks so in-person students could hear clearly as well. The ratio of in-person to RTO students varied throughout the fall semester as students were given the freedom to choose on a class-by-class basis whether to join the session in-person or via the livestream. As the winter weather in Michigan got more precarious, we saw higher RTO numbers.

 

The hybrid model of mixing both in-person and live streaming students felt at times a bit like a sofa-bed, not a perfect sofa and not a perfect bed, but it met both needs. For some students, the RTO format was the only reason they were able to continue their education during the fall 2020 semester. It allowed one student to continue towards her degree while staying in her hometown to help run her family-owned grocery store. Another student was able to care for his elderly family member on the other side of the country while still maintaining a personal connection to classmates and professors. Northwood is planning to continue the RTO option as a course modality moving forward. However, we also recognize that mixing the in-person and RTO option was a temporary and necessary solution specifically designed for flexibility during the pandemic, and we will be offering the RTO modality as separate course sections in the future.

Northwood is a unique, business-focused University that exists to fulfill our mission to develop leaders of a global, free-enterprise society.

At the end of 2020, Verizon accepted nominations for their second annual BlueJeans by Verizon Customer Awards, where they received more than 100 submissions from customers around the world using BlueJeans to improve the way they communicate, collaborate and meet. Northwood University was named an honorable mention winner in the Most Innovative Case Use category, one of just 10 honorable mentions across four categories. The category recognizes “an organization that has demonstrated superior skills in applying video conferencing technology in support of an insightful and creative use case outside of standard meetings.” In recognizing Northwood, BlueJeans by Verizon noted “Looking to support asynchronous teaching methods at the start of the pandemic and a flexible choice model thereafter, Northwood University uses BlueJeans Meetings to livestream classes, share videos, [virtual] whiteboards, and online games; to conduct breakout sessions and team presentations; and to facilitate exams using a real-time online (RTO) approach to teaching.” Based on Northwood’s enterprise usage reports, there was an average of 3,357 BlueJeans Meetings conducted each month during 2020. That was a 675% increase over the University’s 433-monthly average BlueJeans Meetings in 2019.

Northwood is a unique, business-focused University that exists to fulfill our mission to develop leaders of a global, free-enterprise society. The Northwood Idea philosophy, as summarized by V. Orval Watts, a leading proponent of the Idea, was that, “Our graduates should look on business not merely as an easier way to attain ease and affluence, but as an opportunity for utilizing their highest human qualities and attaining lasting satisfaction in a life well spent.” It was certainly true this year. If the faculty and staff of Northwood University had not been agile and persistent, we would not have been able to support The Northwood Idea, and most importantly our students, through these innovative teaching methods.

 

About the author:

Dr. Jeanna Cronk is the Co-Director of the Center for Excellence at Northwood University, focusing on delivering dynamic faculty development opportunities. She also teaches business application courses in hybrid and online modalities for Northwood. Over the past eleven years, Jeanna has delivered a variety of presentations at regional, national, and international conferences. Prior to joining Northwood University, Jeanna taught business-focused courses for five years to grades 9-12 in northern Michigan. Additionally, Dr. Cronk holds a certification in online course development and completed the Blackboard Certified Trainer program in 2013. Dr. Cronk earned a doctorate in Educational Technology from Boise State University, a Master of Arts in Education and a Bachelor of Science in Business Education, both from Central Michigan University. Her first name is pronounced as Gina.

Contact information:

Jeanna R. Cronk, Ed.D.
Center for Excellence, Co-director
Northwood University
4000 Whiting Drive
Midland, MI 48640
cronkj@northwood.edu