Programs That Build Futures at Delaware State University
210 faculty, & 590 staff
ratio is 16:1
* At the time of publication
Established in 1891, Delaware State University (DSU) is a historically black land grant university with a long history of providing quality education for its students. An important component of the DSU learning experience is a required course, University Seminar, to help Freshman students successfully make the transition from high school to college.
University Seminar has been shown to increase graduation rates at DSU by encouraging new students to take advantage of campus resources—like tutoring centers and advising services—early on in their college careers. With topics ranging from academic planning and campus resources to life skills like critical thinking and time management, students—who are often first-generation—are exposed to positive role models, leadership development opportunities, and how to chart their own paths to finding academic success.
Adapting to a Changing Environment
Since the inception of the University Seminar in the early 2000s, the course was offered entirely in person. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, the team at DSU’s Office of Student Success had to quickly develop a new approach to keep students learning when coming to campus was no longer an option. Their work to help students transition took on a new meaning, introduced unique challenges, and was more important than ever.
Like many institutions, Delaware State University pivoted to offer its classes online at scale. “I’m proud to say that the faculty, IT, and the administrators all did a phenomenal job at making that transition happen in a two-week period,” recalls Dr. Clytrice Watson, Associate Provost for Academic and Student Services at DSU. “We realized that we could conduct our classes online effectively.”
As campuses started to open their doors again to in-person learning, Dr. Watson and her team realized virtual learning could be the solution to help manage a growing student population. “Our institution actually grew in enrollment throughout the Pandemic,” says Watson. “We realized we had to consider the modalities in which we offer classes to be more effective with time, space, and our human capital in terms of teaching.”
In addition to helping address the demand on campus resources that a growing student population can have, the Office of Student Success recognized virtual learning had the added benefit of helping the latest cohort of new students—who had completed their last few years of high school education online and were accustomed to virtual learning—transition to college. “We made an executive decision that University Seminar would remain online once the institution opened up for in-person learning again,” says Dr. Watson. “It provided more flexibility in offering the course. We had more students; they needed more classroom space. There were certain courses that we thought would be better served to be online for the students as well as be more convenient for them, too.”
The (Online) Future of University Seminar
One of the challenges that institutions faced during the pandemic with online learning was student engagement. Many virtual classroom solutions are better suited for asynchronous learning or are not equipped with the wide variety of learning tools needed to help students find success like they could in a physical classroom. Dr. Watson and her team recognized that providing a learning solution built for this new era of virtual education could better serve the University Seminar goals.
Enter Class, which provides an interactive, connected virtual learning experience with tools that help instructors track focus, share course materials, and provide feedback to students. “What attracted me to Class was the fact that everyone could be engaged,” says Watson. “It has the attention tracker, enhanced breakout rooms, the ability to show different websites or links without going in and out, and it just makes it easier to really engage with the students and keep them engaged.”
An intuitive, easy-to-access, and easy-to-use solution was also an important consideration for the DSU Office of Student Success in their search for a new virtual learning solution. “We have Class linked to our learning management system,” says Tiffany Alexander, Coordinator of Student Transition. “After they have downloaded the app, students can just click on the link in the LMS, and then they’re in Class. There’s nothing extra that they have to do. It’s just easy for them to navigate.”
Partnering to Meet the Needs of the Students
The DSU Office of Student Success team is committed to ensuring academic success for first-year students—both on and off campus—and adopting and implementing the right tools is a critical component of that success. “It is very important to have that strong technical support with the organizations that you’re partnering with,” says Watson. “Class has definitely provided that with their responsiveness, their availability, and their hands-on training.”
“It feels like Class cares about our student success as well,” adds Alexander. “It has been a great experience.”
With Class, the DSU Office of Student Success has found a unique balance of flexibility, structure, and functionality that keeps their students engaged and learning, regardless of where they are accessing the course. “The pandemic has shifted some things in learning,” reflects Watson. “Higher education has to be sensitive and responsive to the needs of this new generation of students to make sure that we are serving their needs in terms of learning and convenience of course offerings. The virtual learning space is here to stay. It’s not going away.”