MCC launches Student Navigators for online learning
In a time when many schools are being forced to quickly pivot to online learning, McHenry County College knew it had to do more than just serve its regular classes via livestream.
"It was important to us that we preserve the entire student experience -- not just the classes themselves," said Dr. Clint Gabbard, president of MCC. "Our environment is centered around supporting students and delivering all the resources they need to be successful both inside and outside the classroom.
"We needed to figure out how to provide the same quality of education while ensuring that students felt supported and engaged during this uneasy time."
In addition to the group of more than 7,000 students, the college also had to consider the dozens of employees whose jobs centered around being physically on campus. Workers such as those in the library, cafe, bookstore and mailroom now had to be reassigned to different roles.
"A community college is just that -- a community," said Gabbard. "So when we were presented with this challenge, we worked together to identify ways to make this the smoothest transition possible for both our employees and our students."
The college came up with the concept of student navigators, a role that would serve as the point of contact for students as they transition to this unfamiliar, online-only format. Navigators log in to their assigned classes daily to connect students to MCC support services and community resources, monitor student performance and provide guidance with online learning technology.
This concept would not only solve the challenge of virtually delivering student support services, but would provide a defined role for employees who were affected by the temporary transition.
"We now have more than 90 employees assisting with approximately 900 classes," said Dr. Talia Koronkiewicz, vice president of student affairs. "Some navigators are taking on this role part-time in addition to their existing job duties, and some are now doing this full time."
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the college had already been incorporating a similar role. For the past several years, "student success coaches" were assigned to groups of students as they moved through their education at MCC, regularly checking in on their progress and connecting them to support services.
Having this concept in practice on a smaller scale helped the college easily expand the program and make the quick transition to the student navigator model.
"Some of our student navigators have worked as success coaches in the past, but many of them are using a completely different set of skills than they would in their regular role. In some cases, the technology is completely new to them as well," said Koronkiewicz.
"It's truly incredible to see how hard everyone has worked to implement this program and how it has all come together so well in less than two weeks."
Even just a few days in, the college has received enthusiastic feedback from navigators, who are excited to work with students, and from faculty, who are finding the navigators especially helpful in managing their classes, she said.
The college has been creating and optimizing other virtual resources as well, offering live Q&A sessions for students via Zoom, capturing and sharing common FAQs, and developing a resource guide detailing how specific student resources -- such as the Office of Access & Disability Services, Advising, and the IT Help Desk -- would continue to provide support.
"Now more than ever, MCC is exemplifying the resourcefulness, resilience and adaptability a community college embodies," said Gabbard. "I am incredibly proud of the commitment and teamwork shown by those working so hard to support our students."