A Time of Unquestionable Triumph

Faculty, staff and students at Illinois Central College adapt and innovate for online learning.

by Dr. Sheila Quirk-Bailey, President, Illinois Central College
Ralph Sawyer of the ICC Horticulture Department has spent countless hours preparing videos for student learning. Here he shows students how to build a timber wall.
Ralph Sawyer of the ICC Horticulture Department has spent countless hours preparing videos for student learning. Here he shows students how to build a timber wall.

Illinois Central College has adjusted rapidly to the evolving environment caused by COVID-19. Within a two-week timespan, faculty converted over 1,500 courses to an online learning environment. Since then, faculty have come up with creative and innovative teaching methods to continue supporting students with the utmost care in this new virtual learning environment. 

An Online Production Lab
Professor Grant Grebner, teaching chair of agriculture and Livestock Judging Team coach, turned a routine veterinarian call at his family’s farm into an online learning opportunity. Knowing that remote learning presents challenges in the absence of hands-on components, Professor Grebner asked his veterinarian, Dr. Ruel Iliff, for permission to record his procedures. He then turned the recording into an applied livestock production lab for his students. 

“Each semester, it is gratifying to observe that moment when students ‘get it’ or are fascinated by observations and skills they acquire during lab sessions,” Grebner explains. “When Dr. Iliff was scheduled to provide care on our farm, I knew it perfectly aligned with a unit in class.”

A long-time vet and family friend of Grebner, Dr. Iliff has also offered internship experiences and facilitated traditional labs for ICC students over the years. “Our agriculture program has always relied on innovation and industry partners,” Grebner adds, “and this is the perfect example of leaning on those resources to improve our students’ educational experience.”

Ensuring Student Success
Adjunct faculty member Ralph Sawyer of the Horticulture Department joined in creating online course material for his classes. In his first semester teaching horticulture construction, Sawyer has spent countless hours preparing, recording and editing videos for student learning. From instructional videos on building a timber wall and mortaring a stone wall, to slideshows on building fences and pergolas, he took every measure to ensure his students’ success. 

“This is the kind of team I love to work for and represent, the kind of attitude that inspires me to keep working every day, and the kind of outstanding teaching that inspires motivation to emulate,” says Steve Flinn, interim dean of agricultural and industrial technologies. “This is the kind of team you want on your side when facing unexpected challenges like COVID-19.” 

Professor Ray Kowalczyk teaches accounting terms on YouTube
Professor Ray Kowalczyk teaches accounting terms on YouTube using a box of Peanut M&M’s.

Exploring the Possibilities
Accounting professor Ray Kowalczyk has always taught in-person classes at ICC. He was in the process of completing “Excellent Online Teaching” training when it was interrupted by the pandemic, forcing him to switch all of his classes to online delivery. “I’m enjoying the student engagement online and the possibility it provides for innovation,” he shares. “When I’m not working, I’m thinking about what I’m going to do. I can experiment, test things out and decide what works best—then use these innovations for virtual learning.”

Kowalczyk’s latest innovation is a sweet one, literally. For his students’ practical example exercise, he used a box of Peanut M&M’s to create a video explaining accounting terms like FIFO, LIFO, weighted average and periodic inventory. “My students did surprisingly well with the transition. I’ve always told them that 66 percent of learning is done by them, not by me. I can only teach so much, and then they must be proactive and stay caught-up with their studying,” Kowalcyk says. “In the online learning environment, it was really apparent. Students who were the most interactive received the highest grades. Their persistence and proactivity were rewarded.”

Students Get Creative
Faculty and staff weren’t the only ones being creative at ICC—our students used this unusual situation to bring their coursework to life. Brent Goken, communication and public relations professor, says his students were exceptionally creative with their informative speech assignments. They presented their speeches in a variety of unique ways: on fishing boats with lures, rods and other gear; in a stable teaching how to properly care for horses; in family kitchens giving cooking and baking demonstrations; and using family members to demonstrate how to do theatre makeup. 

“The level of creativity left me in awe. They had fun… and used everything they could muster to create amazing presentations,” Professor Goken recalls. “It was the greatest gift I’ve been given during this pandemic—watching my students approach circumstances from a different lens—a creative one that inspired me to do everything I can to see them succeed. We are beating COVID-19 by advancing forward, and at ICC, our students are doing just that!”

Despite these less-than-perfect circumstances, lives are still being changed in central Illinois by pursuing a secondary education. College may be the only hope in someone’s future right now. It is our hope that faculty, staff, students and the community will look back and remember this spring and summer as a time of unquestionable triumph—a time when all endured, overcame and succeeded. PM

For the latest updates and information, visit icc.edu.

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