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By SARA ARTHURS
When Ohio’s universities and colleges switched from face-to-face to online courses amid the coronavirus pandemic, it meant faculty had to abruptly make some changes — and get creative in how they are educating their students.
For example, Sarah Lehman, assistant professor of biology at Bluffton University, is having her students do a biology lab in their own backyard — or wherever they happen to be — taking some soil and examining it for invertebrates.
“It’s a strange experience, you know?” said English professor Jeff Gundy, who teaches American literature and poetry writing at Bluffton. He noted that he’s now seeing students on video in bedrooms in their homes, and in one case sitting on the student’s porch swing.
Gundy is finding that “the big challenge” is to encourage students to engage with the material. Students must all respond actively in some way to the readings, he said. And in the poetry writing class, students read each others’ poems posted online.
Jennifer Walton is a professor of communication studies at Ohio Northern University, where she teaches public speaking. She told her students to record themselves using their phone or webcam. She said traditionally, when someone takes a public speaking class online, they must demonstrate in the recording that they are speaking in front of a live audience, even if it’s just their family. But, because of the need for social distancing, Walton has suspended that requirement.
Todd France, assistant professor of engineering education at ONU, said there is a “big focus on projects” — that is, engineering students design and build devices. His classes had fleshed out their designs and were nearly ready to order parts when the school shifted to online education. Now, they’re still designing — but not actually building — the items.
Michelle Musser, pharmacy practice professor, is part of a team of ONU faculty teaching a required course for fifth-year pharmacy students. It’s the last class they have before their clinical rotations in their sixth year.
Normally, students would get a certificate in advanced cardiac life support — like an advanced version of CPR. But that has to be taught with students physically present and practicing the technique, so the requirement is waived this year. Musser said the hope is to have the students be able to get this certificate next year, while they are doing their clinical rotations as sixth-year students.
Musser was one of several faculty members who talked about learning new things that may help them in future years. At the beginning of the class, she would normally give a lecture of all the projects students will do. This year, she instead recorded a two- to three-minute snippet about each project — and she realized this is a better way of giving this information than one long lecture.
Bob Connour, a biology professor at Owens Community College, said that while some professors teach online all the time, he is someone who likes to see students face to face and write on the blackboard in front of them. So remote teaching has been “an adjustment.”
He said Owens faculty have been emailing each other a lot to talk about what it might look like.
“We’re going to do the best that we can do,” Connour said.
At the University of Findlay, too, faculty were communicating with each other on how to design courses. Damon Osborne, assistant vice president for academic affairs and interim dean for the College of Business, said UF has had established online programs for several years. He said faculty with experience teaching online are helping their colleagues who are new to online teaching, “and it’s been incredible to watch. … What I’ve been proud of most is how people step up,” he said.
Faculty are trying to step up for students, as well.
Walton said she’s concerned about her students’ well-being during a stressful time, and wants them to succeed. She recognizes that “they didn’t choose to register for an online course,” and now they’re learning in a different way.
One student emailed Walton earlier to say she was a resident of the state of Nevada, “and we closed the dorms.” So this student’s father was going to be flying in to pick her up and drive her out west with all her possessions, with limited access to Wi-Fi during the process. It wasn’t the only story like this Walton heard.
So, she learned she needed to be flexible, which included changing some due dates. And her classes are being held at different times, rather than requiring everyone to be online at the same time. Walton said some students are sharing bandwidth with parents who may work from home.
“You have to throw the rules out,” she said.