To say the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges to the UW–Madison campus community — and the world — is an understatement. But the School of Education’s faculty, staff, and students not only found ways to get by — they often thrived. Now, the School is looking forward with hope and anticipating a fall semester that’s shaping up to be much more like 2019 than 2020.

It was March 11, 2020, when UW–Madison announced it would be halting all face-to-face instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The university’s day-to-day operations were changing abruptly and dramatically. In the School of Education alone, faculty, staff, and some graduate students worked tirelessly to move more than 400 courses serving more than 2,500 different students to virtual formats in just more than a week, while nearly 1,000 employees figured out how to work remotely.

“The most vivid image I recall from that period was staring at a spreadsheet of all of the courses we had running across the School and knowing we had an aspiration to support every instructor and every course to continue on with as little disruption as possible,” says Maria Widmer, an instructional designer with the School who would play a key role in helping make the transition a success. “The scale and scope of it all was something I’ll never forget.”

From the onset, Dean Diana Hess focused the School’s overall efforts on four priorities: safeguarding the health of students, faculty, and staff; ensuring students complete their classes; maintaining, when possible, the university’s research and other operations; and joining in the national effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Yet front and center was figuring out how to move all those classes from traditional, face-to-face settings to alternate delivery modes from a distance.

“This was an extremely heavy lift,” Hess says of shifting all those classes online so quickly.