As Converse heads into the fifth week of the fall term, students, faculty and staff have had a successful and healthy return to campus. The Converse community has been wearing masks, adhering to physical distancing and being conscientious throughout campus. Commuter students and students who opted for remote learning are getting the support they need for a successful term. Converse introduced a flexible learning model for the Fall term which included elements of face-to-face, online, hybrid, and blended instruction and activities. Our adaptive faculty are well-prepared just in case there is a shift to remote learning again. It goes without saying that the 2020 Spring semester was unlike any other. Despite these unprecedented and uncertain times, Converse faculty and staff deftly pivoted to the virtual space to best serve and meet the needs of students.
Along with many other institutions, Converse decided to proactively start spring break on March 20 and began planning for an unpredictable semester ahead. Faculty were asked to shift their in-person classes to a virtual space and many employees across campus put in extra hours of work to accommodate learning in the COVID-19 era. While many faculty members encountered challenges associated with shifting to remote learning, Converse employees who also have children at home had a different set of challenges to factor into their work equation.
Meirav Goldhour, Assistant Professor of Interior Design, shared that one of the biggest obstacles was balancing time for her young children with the closure of daycare facilities due to COVID-19 along with the needs of her students. Converse’s Campus Technology team and Dr. Peter Brown, Assistant Professor of Computer Science & Director of Distance Learning, spent countless hours establishing the best options and training available to the Converse community for many to embark on this uncharted territory: fully online pedagogy. The shift from in-person to online was a tall order for faculty who had already structured and fine-tuned their courses for a typical semester. Still, some instructors had to flex creatively in order to adapt their hands-on courses to a virtual format for the Spring 2020 term.
For her course, Mary Carlisle, Assistant Professor of Art, said, “The most challenging aspect of moving ceramics online was losing access to the equipment we have in the studio like potter’s wheels, the slab roller, and the clay mixer.” Carlisle’s teaching methods luckily center around projects that require few tools and ones that can be substituted for everyday household items. Luckily, Professor Carlisle’s students had the opportunity to pick up their personal tools and a limited amount of clay to take home with them.
Professor Carlisle created a community of support with her students, providing discussion boards for feedback among peers and sharing virtual sketchbooks via Google Slides.
“My goal with these new projects is to not only provide students continued skills-building but also offer activities that are a fun way to step away from the stress of the current situation,” Carlisle adds. With opportunities for continued communication, both synchronously and asynchronously, Professor Carlisle created a community of support with her students, providing discussion boards for feedback among peers, optional video calls, and sharing virtual sketchbooks via Google Slides—something in practice prior to the online shift.
In addition to a supportive and collaborative environment within her class, Professor Carlisle filmed demonstrations, compiled handouts, and provided links to supplemental content to students to demonstrate artists’ varied approaches to their work. To ensure all videos were accessible to all students, Professor Carlisle close-captioned and worked with an interpreter for supplemental videos shared with her class.
After the shift to online, Professor Carlisle felt simultaneously more and less connected to her students. “Losing the connection of being in the studio three days a week has been hard. As I film demonstrations, I miss the conversation that typically takes place during this time and the ability to answer questions in real-time. Moving to online learning has also offered ways to communicate that we haven’t traditionally used during the average semester. There are aspects of the virtual communication that have allowed us to mirror studio conversations even using asynchronous methods.” Professor Carlisle’s class connected with one another by sharing photographs of their favorite drinking vessel from home, emphasizing why it’s their favorite as a means of exploring opportunities to incorporate elements into their work for class.
Professor Carlisle also adds, “I am so thankful for our wonderful team in Campus Technology. They have been immediately responsive to questions and concerns. When I needed assistance, they were able to help me download and update software remotely.”
Typically theatre courses are chock full of active performances richly embellished with group feedback and discussion. For the Spring of 2020 and Professor Meg Hanna Tominaga’s Fundamentals of Design for the Theatre course, Hazel B. was not the only force to be reckoned with.
With many of the “fundamentals” covered during the in-person part of the semester, the class had to navigate the completion of hands-on projects during the virtual portion. Meg Hanna Tominaga said, “Normally the students are required to have a certain set of materials for those projects but I had to shift the assignment so that they are using things they have around the house. Otherwise, I have to be over-prescriptive so the students don’t feel like they’ve been tossed to the wind and have to teach themselves. Finding that balance has been tricky.” Classes shifted to PowerPoints with audio recordings of lectures and explanations in lieu of animated, conversational discussions. “Much of what I want my students to learn is that they already know more than they think they do”, Hanna Tominaga said. Without face-to-face interaction, it was difficult to assess students’ real-time understanding “and build their connection to the material and their confidence,” she added.
“Much of what I want my students to learn is that they already know more than they think they do.”
Typically, Professor Hanna Tominaga gives one assignment at the beginning of the week and allows students to problem-solve and create their projects. Although available at any time for questions, Professor Hanna Tominaga emphasizes autonomy and time management through independent projects, yet still practices connection without being overbearing. “Theatre is a collaborative art (the ultimate ‘group project’), and it is strange and uncomfortable for me to not be in human contact with the students. The final project for the class is usually a group project where the students work together to create cohesive show designs, but I couldn’t assume that the students could rely on each others’ internet providers, so the final project has shifted to more of a solo portfolio build,” Hanna Tominaga shares.
Professor Hanna Tominaga added that April 23, 2020 should have been the opening night for Little Shop of Horrors. The set, built halfway before COVID-19, is a “sad and tiny monument to the great things we can create when we are together,” Hanna Tominaga muses. To spotlight opening night, the cast and crew had a Zoom celebration to remind those involved that “despite the distance, what matters is the fact that at the core of theatre arts is the human experience and the connections we make.”
While the arts certainly have their challenges in a virtual environment, chemistry is another course many students wouldn’t want to face without expert guidance. For Associate Professor of Chemistry, Dr. Will Case, the most challenging aspect of moving online was choosing between ‘live’ classes versus. recorded videos. “Live classes would have been the easier option, however, I had concerns about capturing students’ attention for close to an hour,” Dr. Case said. Dr. Case also had to account for students living in different time zones and their ability to log in simultaneously.
Dr. Case took these challenges to task, recording videos by purchasing a subscription of Camtasia for his lectures, and added additional time to his course preparation for each class. Camtasia allowed Dr. Case to share a PowerPoint presentation, record his explanation, and provided him the opportunity to write notes and equations for each slide. Dr. Case started each video off with an intro slide and song to allow students to get a brief glimpse of his playlist; “hopefully feel somewhat connected even if we are apart,” he adds. “I notified students that I’m willing to meet pretty much anytime with advanced notice.”
As a staple for most in the shift to remote learning, Zoom has become a useful tool for Dr. Case to communicate with students and colleagues. However, the Zoom connection is nothing compared to face to face connection. Dr. Case adds “I do feel less connected to my students. I can’t see their reactions when watching my videos, so I don’t know if the concepts are sticking or going over their heads… the most important aspect of any science course is the laboratory time, and unfortunately, there isn’t an online substitute for hands-on, practical experiences in upper-level courses.”
Dr. Case said he will invite this group of students to observe laboratory experiments next spring for the same course for the experience because “the laboratory portion of this course is by far the coolest!”