Staying Prepared: How the Focus of Supporting the Nontraditional Student's Independent Learning shifted from Technology Pre-Pandemic to More Touchpoints Post-Pandemic

Concurrent Session 3
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

In 2017, we turned to technology to engage the students who have limited and inflexible time but have greater success with live instruction. In 2020, post-pandemic, we shifted our focus as the technology allowed for a seamless transition to quarantined life. Learn how pre-pandemic planning prepared us for post-pandemic emergency.


Diane Perilli, CPA, is on the faculty at SUNY Empire State College in New York City, in the Business, Management and Economics division. She's has ten years experience teaching and has thirty years experience as a CPA. Prof. Perilli earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting from State University of NY at Albany and her Masters of Science Degree in Taxation from Pace University in New York City.
Carolina Kim de Salamanca is the Interim Assistant Director of Educational and Emerging Technologies at SUNY Empire State College. She works primarily on initiatives that focus on distance education, student-centered pedagogy, and learning experience design. In addition to this role, she also teaches undergraduate courses at SUNY Empire where her passion – music, education, and technology – intersect.

Extended Abstract

How do we engage the nontraditional student who has limited and inflexible time but has better success with live instruction? In a time where nontraditional students are becoming the new normal in higher education, with almost 50% of undergraduates in that category, their success is not only determined by enrollments but by their rates of retention amidst a competing set of life priorities. At SUNY Empire State College, where the majority of our students are nontraditional learners, the two most flexible and popular modes of studies are online courses and independent studies (in the independent study modality, students learn independently with the guidance of a faculty mentor). Yet, it was found that, in the last five years, they had significantly lower course completion rates vs. modalities that had live course instruction. In addition, given that SUNY Empire State College has locations throughout New York State, often the instructor is located at a different site than the students.  Consequently, creating a community of learners, where students feel connected to the instructor and fellow students, is an added institutional challenge. 

Therefore, in 2017, we sought to address this challenge of learning, engagement, and retention particularly in the independent study modality by collaborating in the creation of a hybrid synchronous-independent format. This was our shared mission, and we each came to it with a specific purpose and a set of goals. Accounting Professor, Diane Perilli's interest was in finding a way to connect her independent study students to each other and to provide direct, live course instruction as a group to enhance learning and engagement even when her students were located throughout New York State. Interim Assistant Director of Educational Technologies, Mrs. Carolina Kim de Salamanca's goals were to pinpoint the kind of support necessary to improve the student experience, to ensure student success in utilizing the embedded technology and, most importantly, to create a scalable model that could be implemented in other disciplines, thus benefitting the greater college community.  

With the emergent changes in early 2020 due to the pandemic, the work we accomplished three years ago greatly facilitated a swift and smooth transition for Prof. Perilli and her students. While the technologies that we had implemented were responsible for the continuity of our classes, it was the engagement and consistent connections that made the difference. We will present the lessons learned from remotely teaching nontraditional learners and discuss the role that educational technology, with strategic and pedagogical support, played pre and post pandemic.

In our Education session, we will share our planning process, what was implemented, and how it was received by the students. We will also describe the outcomes and results of the student surveys. Attendees will be presented with information about the qualities and challenges of teaching the nontraditional student along with how to create a more connected community of learners through various touchpoints. In addition, the audience will be presented with various andragogical discussion methods and will contribute to the session by answering polling questions. This session will be of interest to administrators, faculty, instructional designers and educational technology professionals who wish to support their nontraditional students through collaborative partnerships and strategic support, as well as tools to aid in staying prepared for life’s disruptions.