What is NSS doing about COVID-19?

Mar 16, 2020
John Wark

Well friends, it has been an interesting two weeks in Nashville. It started with a tornado smack through the middle of Nashville, one that continued east, heading out I-40 all the way to Cookeville. Along a 50 mile swath of middle Tennessee lives were lost, many hundreds of houses and businesses damaged or destroyed, and power was out for over a week for many folks. The tornado was followed by a huge wave of community response all through middle Tennessee. 

But the tornado only distracted us for a few days from the threat that had been slowly building offstage for weeks - the threat of the coronavirus, now more formally known as COVID-19.  By the beginning of last week, COVID-19 pushed itself to center stage. While recovery from the tornado remains a big issue for those most directly impacted, COVID-19 is now disrupting more lives and businesses than the tornado ever dreamed of. 

How NSS Is Responding

Which brings us to the point of this post: what is NSS doing to respond to COVID-19? I want to share what we’ve done so far, what’s happening in the coming week, and what we’re still working on. It has always been our practice to be transparent to our students, alumni, employer partners, and the broader community. In the current public health emergency, we believe it’s even more critical to be transparent. This won’t be our last update - we’ll keep you posted as the public health situation, and our response, evolves. 

In reacting to COVID-19 we have several conflicting goals to satisfy. How do we protect our students, staff, and community? How can we protect everyone while also supporting our students on their accelerated learning journey? How can we adapt our teaching and the learning environment to support “social distancing” without significantly impacting the ability of our students to prepare for launching their new tech careers? 

Here’s a quick summary of some high points of our response thus far, see below for more details:

  • All bootcamps are being moved online. Most bootcamps will be online starting today, Monday, March 16, with a few exceptions as noted below.  
  • UI & UX for Digital Product Design class is moving online today.
  • Web Development Jumpstart class is making the move to online tonight and we’re adding a day to this class to compensate for losing a night to setup and acclimation to the online tooling. 
  • Our operations staff will be preparing to migrate to an online, work from home environment during this coming week.
  • Our public information session scheduled for Wednesday, March 18, will be moved to an online webinar format. More details will be shared to those registered for the info session. 
  • All events, meetups, etc. scheduled to be held in our space have been cancelled or postponed effective immediately. The only exception to this is Hack For the Community, which has not yet announced their plans, although we expect an announcement soon on the status of this important community event. 
  • We ask that those interested in information on our programs or interested in visiting our classroom facility make contact via email or through the contact page on our website. We ask that you not visit our facility until further notice. 

Now for more of the details. 

We started last week trying out new (to us) technology that would allow us to go completely online if necessary. Within a couple of days it was clear that not only would we need to go fully online, we’d need to do so as soon as possible. We decided that Zoom offered the features we would need to support our classes on a distributed/remote basis. We started testing Zoom in our full-time classes on Wednesday. On Friday, we had all of our day students working from home using Zoom to connect with each other and with their instructional teams. Friday’s experiment was successful, albeit not without challenges, some caused by learning to use the tools and some from learning how to adapt our learning model to a remote environment. Those classes will operate online full-time until further notice.

We also managed to get our evening part-time bootcamps introduced to Zoom by Saturday (3/14 - pi day). Those classes are also ready for remote online operation starting this week. 

But not all class sessions will be online all the time. We have a limited number of class activities this coming week that will still be in-person. If you’ve been reading all of the guidance being shared online about how we should all respond to COVID-19, you know that there’s room for a range of responses - we don’t all need to hole up at home all the time. We have a new full-time cohort starting in data analytics this week - they will be meeting at NSS for at least a few class sessions. They will be separated much more than in a normal class, but they will have a chance to get to meet their instructors, meet each other, and create connections that will help the students as they transition to online. Of course, any student or instructor that has symptoms that might be COVID-19, or who has potentially been exposed to COVID-19, or who just feels uncomfortable with being in class, will be supported while they stay at home. After a few introductory class sessions, the entire class will shift to full online. 

For all of our day classes, our instructor teams will be available in the online classroom for the entire class day. Student project teams will have separate online work rooms but will be able to reach out to instructors for help at any time. Class demonstrations, lecture, and code alongs will be synchronous online. Depending upon how long the need to be online lasts, we’ll adapt some portions of classes to work better in an online environment and to allow some class material to be consumed in an asynchronous manner. 

During this coming week we will also focus on how to deliver our career development support on a remote basis. Some of those activities are fairly easy to support - one-on-one counseling sessions, resume reviews, and presentations of career development information all can be done online using the same tools we use for classes. Networking events, roundtables, mock interview events, and Demo Days will need a bit more creativity to adapt and that’s what we’ll be working on this week. We know this is a very important topic to current students, particularly those that graduate in less than two weeks - we’ll be providing answers very soon. 

We know that this is a rapidly evolving situation and we fully expect the next two weeks to have more surprises as well as more complete information about COVID-19 to use in responding. We’re all committed to doing whatever we can to support our students while protecting not only students but staff and the broader community. As to how long this will last, I don’t think any of us can actually know an answer to that question. Is it temporary - yes, surely it is. But how long is temporary? I think we have to assume at least several weeks. We’ll be thrilled if it’s not, but we’ll be prepared if it is. 

We can break the back of the current COVID-19 pandemic if we all work together to flatten the curve of infection and avoid overloading the health care system. There’s no road map for this journey we’re all taking together the next few weeks. If we all stay patient and treat each other with grace, we’ll all make it through. 

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