Carl Vinson Institute of Government Rapidly Expanding Online Training Opportunities

Roger Nielsen

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020

The Carl Vinson Institute of Government is responding to coronavirus-related postponements by increasing the number of online professional development courses that are available for state and local government officials.

Institute faculty are quickly converting classroom courses to internet-based training sessions that provide the same high-quality content through engaging, easily accessible videoconferencing tools, according to Institute Director Laura Meadows.

“We have a lot of experience with online learning, both standalone courses as well as a variety of webinars. What’s new is we’re now providing live online instruction for courses we have previously delivered face-to-face,” Meadows said.

The Certified Public Manager (CPM) program that instructors typically present in a classroom setting hasn’t been interrupted by coronavirus emergency measures. Instead, it has migrated online, using a videoconferencing tool. Like other faculty throughout the Institute, CPM faculty are revising their lesson plans to deliver their classes via videoconferencing. Using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, students are able to raise a virtual hand if they have a question, gather into small discussion groups and “talk” back and forth with the instructor and among themselves.

All 31 of the local and state officials who are enrolled in the CPM course were present for the Budgeting class March 19 and gave it good reviews. “The class itself went on without missing a beat,” said Jackson County Finance Director Trey Wood. “Once everybody got comfortable and started communicating back and forth, it was easy to stay engaged.”

The CPM cohort has been meeting since August so it’s important for classes to continue uninterrupted, according to Tracy Mason, senior assistant director of the Judicial Council of Georgia/Administrative Office of the Courts.

“It was good for the Institute to have a plan and be able to deploy that videoconferencing program so fast,” Mason said. “I don’t feel that I would have preferred to wait until we could meet face-to-face again.”

Niki Lemeska, program manager with the Georgia Commission on Family Violence, especially liked the interactivity that the videoconference platform allows. “It allows you to feel like you’re picking up on the vibe of what’s going on in the classroom even though you’re not seeing your classmates live,” she said.

Another class member noted the online platform offered “great value in meeting with peers” and added, “The interaction is key.”

Institute faculty agree — and are designing lesson plans to maximize interactivity, according to Tracy Arner, the Institute’s Financial Management Program manager. Arner, who has developed many online classes, led the recent push to transition face-to-face classes to interactive online tools.

“I’m really proud of this team, especially Tracy Arner and Dave Lakly, who have jumped right in and tested tools to meet the unique needs of our students and instructors,” Meadows said.

The transition to online teaching can be challenging for instructors a well as students, Arner said. “Online, you can’t see anybody, you can’t read their body language. You have to remember to keep saying raise your hand, chat, turn on your mics.”

Keeping people interacting and engaged also takes planning, according to Marci Campbell, who is continuing to use videoconferencing in her CPM class.

“You have to plan the day carefully and include some small-group activities, with targeted questions. It can’t be all lecture or people will lose interest,” she said.

Other courses, including the North Atlanta Regional Management Development Program (MDP) session March 25, have transitioned online using the Zoom videoconferencing platform. Participants like John “Kevin” Norred, deputy chief of the Troup County Fire Department in LaGrange, found the process unusual but fulfilling.

“I really thought I would be working today with this Zoom thing going ‘wah, wah, wah’ in the background. But, I find myself engrossed and engaged just like the class. ... I just don't have to drive home!” Norred said.