Faculty Leading Innovation in the Age of COVID

Published: January 04, 2021 | Author: Lyndsey Nelson | Read Time: 3 minutes

Faculty Innovation at Southern Utah UniversityThe switch from face-to-face to remote learning brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic took students and faculty alike by surprise, and presented many challenges. As we continue to adapt and learn, professors at Southern Utah University have found new and innovative ways to change their teaching methods for a new style of learning.

“Before last March, I had never taught a class online,” said Dr. David Berri, professor of economics at SUU. “I came into this with zero experience. In fact, my experience with Canvas was quite limited. I had to learn how to really utilize many of the features in Canvas, and of course how to use Zoom. I faced a significant learning curve.”

The transitions over the past six months have brought on many challenges from both sides of the classroom, from technology issues to difficulties getting students involved. However, one of the most demanding for faculty has been teaching in multiple modalities at one time. SUU has utilized three methods to attend classes this semester, so both students and faculty are able to participate, even if they are isolating at home.

“On a given day, a professor may have students participating face to face, remote synchronously, and remote asynchronously,” said Dr. Matthew Weeg, director of SUU’s Center of Excellence for Teaching and Learning. “Students participating in each of those modalities have different needs, and it is a lot of work to plan activities that will address the needs of each group. Many of us have gone back to the drawing board and redesigned what we typically do so that all of our students have the same quality learning experience, regardless of the modality.”

In an effort to ease the current situation and promote learning, SUU installed new technology funded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, including cameras in each classroom and providing professors the opportunity to check out GoPros and document cameras in order to give remote students access to a more familiar classroom experience.

When the University moved to emergency remote learning in the spring of 2020, the Center of Excellence for Teaching and Learning (CETL) filtered through the endless amount of information being provided and gave SUU faculty the best resources they could find. In addition, CETL hosted two panel discussions with faculty from across campus to share lessons learned and successful strategies for teaching remotely.

“SUU provided some very useful instructional classes and they have been very helpful in solving problems,” said Dr. Berri. “In addition, it appears our basic infrastructure at SUU-- compared to what I hear is happening at other schools -- is excellent.”

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

“I’ve added creative assignments to most of my courses since COVID began,” said Dr. Andy Marvick, professor of art history. “I also always make sure to offer a writing assignment to any student who wants to avoid the challenge of making visual art on demand. It's important to remember that not all of our art-history students are creatives in an Art & Design program.”

“Given the historical significance of COVID, I have integrated it into several of my classes,” said Dr. Laura Davis, assistant professor of history. “My HIST 1700 students read and responded to an article that compared and contrasted the 1832 cholera epidemic’s impact on the presidential election with the anticipated impacts of COVID on the 2020 election.”

Overall, the transition to remote instruction, while challenging, has given professors and students the opportunity to explore new avenues of learning.

“I would say that faculty are working incredibly hard right now and feeling overwhelmed,” said Dr. Weeg. “This is a huge challenge, and it is inspiring to hear faculty talk about the concern they have for students and the lengths they are going to give students the best learning experience possible under the circumstances. SUU’s faculty are stepping up and doing an incredible job.”

SUU continues to follow guidance from local and state public health officials and the CDC to keep campus safe and healthy. For more information about SUU’s response to COVID-19 visit suu.edu/coronavirus/.

Tags: Coronavirus Faculty

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