Technology Brings Students & Faculty Together During COVID

Published: December 08, 2020 | Author: Kenzie Lundberg | Read Time: 4 minutes

Technology Brings Students and Faculty Together During COVID As COVID-19 brought closures around the world, many educational institutions sought out new ways to educate and connect with students. As Southern Utah University prepared for the fall 2020 semester, technology updates were made to all classroom spaces to ensure faculty were able to reach students, whether or not they were physically present in the classroom.

Funded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, SUU installed cameras in every teaching space on campus. Unlike a traditional webcam, these cameras provide greater control to the faculty members, allowing them to switch angles or zoom in and out on the board, so remote students can see more of what is happening in the classroom. While the in-person classroom experience cannot be completely replicated through the use of technology, the updates come as close as possible to that experience during this time.

“The new technology SUU has provided during this difficult time has been super helpful and a big relief for many people,” said Savannah Byers, English education major at SUU. “Even if I am unable to physically attend class, I can still actively participate and make the most of class time. I love that I can communicate with my professors and peers and be part of the classroom experience in real time, even if it’s not exactly the same as attending class in-person.”

As an experiential learning institution, with a focus on hands-on learning, giving students the opportunity to fully participate in class is essential for SUU and a huge challenge when teaching remotely. Zoom licenses were increased so SUU students, faculty and staff were able to access and use Zoom for collaboration at any time. And, to help bring the classroom to life, SUU’s Gerald R. Sherratt Library purchased GoPro cameras and made them available for faculty to borrow. The cameras gave the faculty the flexibility to showcase their classrooms in unique ways and made it easier for students to experience the class, from art studios to the great outdoors.

The change to online education makes it difficult to encourage student participation, but SUU professors have found ways to ensure students feel comfortable participating in class, whether online or in face-to-face instruction.

“In the move to remote instruction, I have learned to be a little more sensitive to my students' needs,” said Dr. Tony Pellegrini, department chair of teacher education, who teaches the majority of his courses synchronously as he primarily trains full-time teachers to become principals. “Even at a distance, we are dealing with human beings and they deserve sensitivity and kindness- especially right now. We are training teachers to become principals, and they will be working with children and their families who are also navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. We have adjusted our content to prepare them for these new challenges.”

Beyond the classrooms, SUU’s Online Teaching and Learning Office recently built a studio for faculty members to film lectures with all the necessary technology and support. The space features multiple cameras and a lightboard, allowing faculty to record high-quality lectures for students in online or remote classes.

“The most critical point is that, that faculty took the time to learn the new technology and to learn how to make it work for them,” said Matt McKenzie, director of Online Teaching at Learning at SUU. “Each faculty member is different. Some really enjoy the idea, some want additional support or equipment. But their willingness to learn and attend training sessions allowed them to be prepared for the experience this fall.”

As we move forward with many unknowns, Matthew Weeg, director of the Center of Excellence for Teaching and Learning at SUU, recommends three things for faculty teaching next spring.

“Be flexible. We don't know when the next curveball will be thrown our way, and building some flexibility into our classes helps absorb the bumps along the way,” said Dr. Weeg. “Second, focus on building community in the classroom. Our students need that more than ever right now, especially those participating remotely. Learning is a social endeavor, and students who feel disconnected from their professors and classmates will have a difficult time staying engaged. Finally, be compassionate. Our students are dealing with a lot right now, and a little compassion and understanding goes a long way. I would also encourage faculty to be compassionate towards themselves as well.”

“As we navigate through the pandemic and especially as we enter peak flu season, it’s important to stay home if you’re feeling sick or if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19,” said Byers. “I’m glad SUU has provided the resources necessary for me to succeed academically, even when I cannot physically attend class.”

SUU continues to follow guidance from local and state public health officials and the CDC to keep campus safe and healthy. 

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