PCC Continues to Enhance Distance Education Capability to Combat COVID

PCC’s Jeremy Morris demonstrates one of the Webex camera systems the college is using to turn traditional classroom settings into interactive virtual classrooms. Morris says many of the faculty members he’s trained on the technology have found it beneficial and easy to operate. He noted that, as a group, employees had amassed nearly 20,000 hours utilizing the college’s Webex devices.

WINTERVILLE—After 17 months of mostly teleworking and distance education due to COVID, Pitt Community College still finds itself working feverishly to strengthen its teleconferencing capability, even though employees and students returned to campus in August.

Utilizing federal CARES Act funding it received as part of the government’s effort to revitalize the nation’s economy, PCC has added Cisco WebEx technology to a number of classrooms and conference rooms. The primary reason, says PCC IT Support and Security Services Supervisor Jeremy Morris, is to create synchronous learning environments that ensure students can continue their studies whenever COVID-19 presents obstacles.

“Students who test positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to the virus are required to quarantine for the health safety of their classmates and instructors,” Morris said. “The WebEx voice and video conferencing tools we’re installing across campus create an interactive virtual classroom environment that gives students in quarantine the ability to continue participating in their classes and earning college credits.”

Thus far, Morris said, PCC has set up speaker tracking camera systems in 47 classrooms. Each kit consists of a Quad Camera for the front of the classroom to capture live video of students and a second camera for the back that tracks and follows instructors. The speaker tracking system detects and switches between active speakers in coordination with the Quad Camera.

“The technology allows students to see and hear their classmates and instructors from home in ‘real-time,’” Morris said. “It also gives instructors the ability to share computer screens and virtual whiteboards with students who cannot be in the traditional classroom because of COVID.”

PCC Health Sciences Dean Donna Neal says the camera systems have enhanced her division’s ability to provide instruction in spite of the pandemic.

“Health sciences faculty are very thankful to have these rooms and say they have made all the difference in keeping classes going, given the amount of quarantining that is happening in our division,” Neal said. “We still have a lot of labs and clinical time they must make up with students, as WebEx rooms can’t solve that, but at least the lectures are able to proceed.”

Morris said PCC had installed camera systems in a pair of conference rooms as well, including one at the college’s Farmville Center, that allows employees to participate in meetings while following social distancing protocols. He said Pitt has also created six mobile units that give the college the ability to turn any traditional classroom setting into a virtual one.

“Each mobile unit is basically a stand-alone WebEx system that can be moved from location to location,” Morris said. “Instructors who teach in different classrooms can move a camera system with them as they go.”

As of late September, Morris said PCC was preparing to upfit 10 more areas on campus with the WebEx technology, including the Goess Student Center’s Davenport Multipurpose Room and the Williams Building’s Max R. Joyner Auditorium.

“With so many meetings, conferences and class scheduling possibilities each semester, we want to have as many areas fitted with the camera systems as possible,” Morris said. “Our goal is to ensure the learning process at Pitt Community College is as consistent and effective as possible, regardless of COVID-19 developments.”