PCC: Powering Progress Past the Pandemic

Pam Sornson, JD

Like most schools across the country, Pasadena City College (PCC) abruptly closed its doors in March as the COVID-19 pandemic spread through Los Angeles. Although the school offers an excellent ‘Distance Education‘ opportunity, most students prefer to attend classes on campus, so the campus closure was particularly hard for them. Both students and faculty were distressed and unnerved by the disruption of their school year, unsure how to continue with coursework, maintain connections, or move productively through to the end of the semester. It was a very stressful and difficult semester for everyone. 

Ultimately, the 2019-2020 school year did end, and a significant number of PCC students were able to complete (mostly) their coursework to achieve the necessary grade and credits to move on. The process wasn’t smooth, however; some students had to leave their studies due to family or personal circumstances. Others struggled to find the resources they needed to carry on. Faculty members were flummoxed, too, as they – almost overnight – became online teachers, which required a skill set that was foreign to many of them. For both groups and PCC administrators, the transition from an on-campus to an online college was lurching, uneven, and confusing.  


Pushing Past the Hurdles

Despite the challenges, PCC’s faculty and staff pushed on through the Spring, looking for solutions to social and technical barriers while also working to ensure teaching remained as accessible as possible. Staff worked hard to find new ways to support their constituents remotely while administrators secured new resources and assets to bridge the newly revealed gaps in their systems. Even though the campus itself was closed, PCC as a school did its best to provide its students with the education they needed, much of which is now enhanced with newly developed digital resources and capacities.  


Lessons Learned …

Looking back, the challenges presented to the faculty by the COVID-19 pandemic were significant; in-class, face-to-face instruction is the traditional college ‘comfort zone.’ Further, the transition to ‘online teaching’ was necessarily quick, which contributed difficulties to the situation. However, some were able to embrace the ‘opportunity’ and three of them – Colleen Nanno, Thom Thoen, and Dice Yamaguchi – are happy to share with Pulse readers how they reinvented their curricula to accommodate the changes, how their students responded, and how this COVID-19 experience will forever alter their teaching styles. 


… And Applied

Looking forward, PCC leadership has embraced the coronavirus’s technological opportunity and spent its summer investing resources into helping its faculty improve their online teaching chops. Besides offering an 8-week course on how to teach online, the school also offers online guidance on how to reach students and teach remotely. It turns out there’s more to think about than just ensuring an adequate power supply and a quiet room.


Teaching Remotely – A Primer

Shifting from in-class to online instruction requires changing the approach to four distinct aspects of the teaching experience:

Communicating with students

Per usual, students do better when they have access to their professors both in class and individually. While they are not optimal, online courses accessed through a digital portal provide a ‘whole class’ opportunity without the travel/bookbag/desk attendance experience. Email and other social media channels also open doors between students and teachers, making ‘chatting’ with the instructor easier and more accessible than ever. 

Delivering course materials

“Hand-outs’ become ‘uploads’ as lecture content and assignments go digital. Students can download them at will, or simply store their class notes in an electronic file. Course organization changes, too, since there’s no innate ‘ebb and flow’ of classroom conversation to segway into the next topic. Modules now collect ideas and principles into single units that build on each other sequentially. No longer live, demonstrations become videos that create a permanent record of the lesson, even though they also mandate the development of a new skill set around camera angles, lighting, and even costume and make-up. Video tools also capture on-screen images (documents, graphs, etc.), and adding voice-over technology enhances the lesson.  

Encouraging student engagement

Fortunately, PCC learning tech isn’t confined to the classroom. Digital tools connect learners to lessons in a variety of ways:

Discussion boards facilitate class discussions long after the class is over. Learners can ask questions or look to follow up on comments through this digital portal, which maintains student attention and learning.

Breakout rooms offer a similar opportunity. Students can engage with both their professor and their classmates in breakout rooms based on project work, topic, or any other course-related subject. 

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of engaging students electronically is that it also creates a permanent file they can refer to at their convenience, extending both the lesson and their education.  

Assessing student achievement

Interacting in person daily isn’t available in a remote learning situation, so teachers must develop alternative ways to measure their student’s progress. Digital tools facilitate several accessible assessment opportunities, so both teacher and learner can gauge improvements.   

Assigning projects through a learning portal allows students to clarify expectations before beginning, which maximizes both their and their teacher’s time.  

Quizzes and exams issued digitally enable teachers to choose the difficulty level of the subject matter, and students test their increasing knowledge. 

Digital portfolios accept uploaded assignments and record the date and time of the submission, any feedback or revisions, and the final grade, all in one location. 

Sharing student materials in breakout rooms also gives classmates insights into the course’s subject matter and their cohort’s perspective of that. 


As the 2020-2021 school year approaches, the staff, faculty, and administration of Pasadena City College will build on the lessons learned from the COVID crisis so far, to ensure its students continue to receive the high-quality education they’re expecting.  


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