Behind the scenes of MSJC’s digital transformation

By Lillian Goodwin 

Image designed by Eddie Landeros

The beginning of the Spring 2020 semester this year was standard procedure; Classes, clubs, and extracurricular activities met on time, in person, and everything was more or less as it had always been. There were distant concerns over the discovery of a new human-affecting variant of a bat virus in Asia, but like most developments in international news, it ultimately had little effect on our day-to-day.  

However, this changed on January 19, when the U.S. confirmed its first case of COVID-19, according to a press release on the same day by the Center for Disease Control- marking the transition from hot air to an emergent domestic concern. Ten days later, the World Health Organization declared a Public Health Emergency.  

Most of those living in the United States would remain in a liminal period, between domestic crisis and, in President Trump’s own words, “a very little problem,” until nearly two months later when, on March 13, a state of National Emergency was declared, and schools shut their doors to the public. In the middle of ongoing curriculum, education was quickly moved completely online. 

During the two-month lull between complacency and emergency, little notice was given to America’s schools and colleges still in operation across the country. A National Security Council Memo, leaked to the New York Times in April and released internally February 14 recommended considering school closures, but nothing was strictly mandated. Then, at the announcement of a National State of Emergency, the county of Riverside was spurred into action.  

Professor Bahareh Alaei, an instructor with the English department at Mt. San Jacinto College, was tasked with a pivotal role in the college’s transition to an online format. She served as the Interim Distance Coordinator, having an already substantial amount of experience with teaching online classes, but even she wasn’t prepared for how fast the process would go.  

“We knew about the transition maybe a week in advance,” she says. “Everything is new, it’s an emergency situation. We hit the ground running.”  

“We didn’t even have time to form expectations! I’m working nonstop,” said Alaei 

The advance week in question beats the national timeline, if only by a hair; the MSJC administration went from “monitoring the situation” on March 4 to calling an emergency resolution with the board of trustees on March 12 to authorize campus closures and other prevention measures, according to public memos from superintendent Roger Schultz.   

“I was incredibly fortunate to work closely with the DELTA team, as well as our deans,” Alaei said of the school’s distance learning program. “They have a huge wealth of experience.”   

The Distance Education and Learning Technology Advancement, or DELTA, Team is MSJC’s official online education team, originally taken on to help design online curriculum as well as facilitate them through various platforms. They were behind many of the modernization of online education at MSJC, from the switch from Blackboard to Canvas to the training of several faculty for online instruction, and now the monumental task of converting a majority of MSJC’s classes into an online-only format.  

For Alaei, the worst of the transition was the potential pressures it put on students.  

“The most stressful part is thinking about how the students are going to transition to that environment. There are challenges with experience- blind spots- that you have to be aware of, as a teacher,” said Alaei. “I’m so proud of our students, faculty, and support services, because this is really hard to do mid-semester. There’s so many amazing stories about stepping up.”  

Stressful as the transition was, there’s always room for opportunity. Like many students and staff members, Alaei has taken up new hobbies while staying at home. When she’s not on a 16-hour workday, Alaei has taken up to practicing on her father’s Oud- an ancient relative of the lute- as a new hobby. 

“It’s definitely slowing down, leaving me more time to practice,” she said, holding the instrument.