Fall 2020 is less than ‘ideal’ for IDEAL

As Georgia State and other universities across the country prepare for the fall semester during the COVID-19 pandemic, the IDEAL Program plans to operate in ways that contradict the name.

According to its website, the Inclusive Digital Expression and Literacy (IDEAL) Program is a post-secondary program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. IDEAL provides students with the opportunity to learn media production, storytelling and communication skills. 

The pandemic has resulted in virtual learning and a class setting that is less than “ideal” for the program, but as Georgia State worked to shift fall courses to online over the summer, IDEAL Directors Spenser Norris and Cara Davis began the process early last semester. 

“In March, Cara and I moved the entire program to a virtual setting,” Norris said. “Through [the] spring and summer semesters, we operated using Zoom, meeting for classes, individual support for students, career learning groups and holding events over Zoom.”

On May 19, the IDEAL Program held a graduation ceremony with the GAIPSEC program via Zoom. Though not in-person, IDEAL wanted to honor the students of the spring 2020 graduating class.

This semester, Norris and Davis plan to continue virtual learning.

“We will remain supporting students through virtual classes, individual virtual meetings, group virtual meetings and support,” Norris said. “We have also added a virtual apprenticeship element to our program since many students will not be able to access in-person internships. We will still be doing all the things IDEAL does, just virtually.”

The IDEAL Program holds many events where students and staff would meet in-person, such as career panels, basketball games and clubs. Norris and the IDEAL team are looking to find similar virtual opportunities.

Students within IDEAL are not on the Georgia State campus unless given the opportunity to go for two class meetings at most. 

Virtual learning can sometimes stifle students, but according to Norris, most pupils in the program seem to be attentive during the virtual meetups. Even so, some students do not learn well in remote settings, causing applicants to not join the program this semester. 

Because there is no in-person instruction, Norris offered students the option to defer enrollment and postpone their admission until a later date. 

“[This] has affected our numbers slightly. We are also coming to the end of our grant funding cycle, so we are working hard to create and find sustainable funding resources,” she said. “We see a high need for access to technology in this virtual space, so we are raising funds to provide those things to students in need.”

Almost half of the IDEAL staff graduated in spring 2020. 

With fewer staff members, the near-end of funding and online-only instruction, Norris and the IDEAL Program plan to have an interesting fall semester.