College students keenly felt the impact of COVID-19. Social distancing took its toll, and many were worried about their academic and career prospects. But others managed to adapt and even thrive — like students at Northwood University in Midland, Michigan.

“As an instructor, I had a student who was helping run her family’s grocery store in the Metro Detroit area,” says Dr. Jeanna Cronk, Co-Director of Northwood University’s Center for Excellence. “It was one of the businesses that was critical to stay open, and they didn’t have the employees to come and help. Through RTO [real-time online], she was able to stay home, keep their business running, and join all her classes.”

Like other universities, Northwood had to shut down its campus during its spring semester in 2020. But it quickly found ways to give students a sense of connection, including by rolling out an engaging and accommodating remote learning setup.

Fortunately for Northwood, it already had BlueJeans Meetings as well as Events in place. With the architecture already set up, and having full confidence in the video conferencing platform’s reliability, Northwood had no problem rapidly transforming its in-person classes into online formats.

Giving Students Flexibility

Initially, the non-profit university offered asynchronous learning methods and optional BlueJeans meetings for students. But for its fall 2020 semester, it decided to let students choose how they would attend their courses as uncertainty surrounding the pandemic continued.

“If a student registered for an in-person class, they were given the option, on a day-by-day basis, to choose to attend in the classroom or via RTO through BlueJeans Meetings,” says Cronk.

For this setup, Northwood gave each lecturer a wireless headset and equipped most classrooms with 360-degree meeting space cameras, making sure in-person and RTO students could engage with each other. Faculty members then used BlueJeans to share videos, whiteboards, and online games — and hold breakout sessions and team presentations. Some of them also facilitated exams through the platform.

Northwood’s number of BlueJeans meetings shot up to 3,000 by the end of March 2020, an increase of 541% from the previous month. Altogether, it held 40,292 meetings in 2020.

Enabling Students to Continue Learning

Giving students the RTO format was critical to helping them and Northwood move forward during the pandemic, according to Cronk. By integrating an RTO BlueJeans Meetings option into that fall semester’s in-person courses, students were able to make a personal choice based on their comfort level, medical history, and family needs.

“I had another student who was in Arizona with his elderly family member. And he was taking care of that family member while joining the RTO classes,” says Cronk.

“It was one of those situations where he never would have had that opportunity to take care of his family and continue his education without our online option,” she adds.

Providing a Sense of Connection

Importantly, students felt a sense of support and connection after being cut off from their usual activities and interactions on campus.

“Providing support during that time was a struggle. So, if there was anything we could do to give them that connection, we tried,” says Cronk.

“BlueJeans provided us a great option to enable many of our students to continue with their studies,” she adds.

With the success of its RTO BlueJeans Meetings setup, Northwood plans to keep it as an option for students going forward.

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