Interview with Ryann Leonard, Criminal Justice Faculty at Big Bend Community College and Highline College

How has operations changed?

Ryann Leonard: For me, very little has changed. I have been teaching fully online for several quarters. The difference for me is I have set up more check-ins with students and have extended a bit more grace. More globally, my colleagues are stressed. They have been rushed to change their teaching radically without the proper time to even contemplate how they would transition successfully. They care about students and miss the face to face and also are struggling on what to do for students who are not engaged.

How are students coping with the change?

Ryann Leonard: Some students are doing really well. Others, more than the usual number, are under extreme stress. Many are emailing using phrasing where I can hear the frustration or anxiety and they lack the understanding or are struggling to label why they are struggling. I’m trying to help provide solutions to their scheduling nightmares or giving them short cuts to studying. I think overall though, those that are persisting are going to be even more resilient.

Have any students expressed that they may not have the resources at home, such as computer/Internet access to help them complete their schoolwork?

Ryann Leonard: The biggest lack for them is printers or reliable internet. Many have at least a phone and some are sharing a computer. It’s not ideal but they are problem solving and figuring out ways to make it work. Our library is offering to print things for our students for free and have them pick it up. I’m changing test times or formats of materials to make everything fully digital.

Are there new options for students to gain experiential learning that they would have gotten through internships?

Ryann Leonard: We don’t do internships so I’m not sure. I know I am inviting guest speakers to come to classes virtually to try to still give some of that workforce experience.

What are the lessons learned from the response of COVID-19? How might you incorporate those lessons learned in the program?

Ryann Leonard: I don’t know that I have any new lessons learned from my program. I carefully designed it to flex for student schedules and to continue no matter the format. Student will miss out on some things (like forensic experience or live training with law enforcement or trips to the correctional facilities) but with creativity they can still do amazing things. We are thinking about creating a “crime scene to go” kits for our investigations class this quarter.

Where does education go from here in terms of online and grounded courses, along with making sure students are provided with the resources need to so they succeed in their classes/programs?

Ryann Leonard: We must address equity and we need to recognize that education is not just about academic content. We are often also educating on life processes. Community Colleges especially need to be better at wrap around services and working with the whole student and not just their student identity. I think colleges will have to reconsider those essential services that students need and put resources toward them. Unfortunately, none of this will be possible without support of the legislature through funding. I hope this will cause a shift and recognition of the place education should have in the hierarchy of important social services. We also need to do better at supporting staff and building community.

I think overall we will recognize that the traditional view of education is dead, and that flexibility and multiple modalities is the future. There are so many ways to learn and this will show the creativity of the disciplines. This will also move us out of our silos and create cross-collaboration for the first time. We in the Criminal Justice programs are ahead of the curve because we have been building relationships and sharing resources for years. This is why we have some of the strongest programs and students in the state!