The University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government didn’t waste any time moving its popular continuing education programs online so that state and local officials wouldn’t fall behind during the coronavirus pandemic.
Vinson faculty offered its first online class in its Certified Public Manager program on March 19, a week after the state effectively shut down because of the pandemic. All 31 participants enrolled in the program, which began in August, participated.
Students in the current CPM program have been meeting since August so it’s important for classes to continue uninterrupted, according to participant Tracy Mason.
“It was good for the institute to have a plan and be able to deploy that videoconferencing program so fast,” said Mason, senior assistant director of the Judicial Council of Georgia/Administrative Office of the Courts. “I don’t feel that I would have preferred to wait until we could meet face-to-face again.”
The CPM program provides professional education to managers throughout city, county and state government that helps them make fiscally and socially responsible decisions that benefit their communities. Having this kind of education will be even more important now as Georgia’s cities and counties deal with the impact from the coronavirus.
This program, like most of the Vinson Institute’s certification programs, is offered through a series of courses that build upon each other over a period of months. It would be a setback for participants if there was a long delay between classes.
The institute already had been moving some of its classroom courses online, which would increase accessibility for government officials spread throughout the state. But the virus, and subsequent statewide restrictions on gatherings in groups, made the changes more critical, said Tracy Arner, financial management program manager at the Vinson Institute.
“It’s shaping, really moment by moment, how we’re delivering services,” Arner said.
Vinson faculty used Blackboard Collaborative Ultra to videoconference the March 19 CPM class on budgeting. Through that platform, class participants could raise a virtual hand if they had a question, gather into small discussion groups, and “talk” back and forth with the instructor and among themselves.
“The class itself went on without missing a beat,” said participant Trey Wood, Jackson County finance director. “Once everybody got comfortable and started communicating back and forth, it was easy to stay engaged.”
Even though they weren’t in a room together, participant Niki Lemeska said the interaction via video kept the class on track.
“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,” said Lemeska, program manager with the Georgia Commission on Family Violence.
Vinson already offered online learning, with standalone courses and webinars, said Laura Meadows, director of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government.
“What’s new is we’re now providing live online instruction for courses we have previously delivered face-to-face,” Meadows said.
Another Institute of Government course, the North Atlanta Regional Management Development Program, was taught online using Zoom on March 25.
Participant 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,” Norred said. “But I found myself engrossed and engaged just like in class. I just don’t have to drive home.”
While many classes are being adapted for videoconferencing, the institute will continue to offer webinars and self-study online classes for government officials throughout Georgia. Many are certified by the Georgia Department of Revenue, allowing local tax officials to earn continuing education credit. Others allow local and state leaders to work toward or maintain certification. You can find available classes at cviog.uga.edu/training-and-education/online-courses/.
Roger Nielsen Carl Vinson Public Relations Coordinator