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Remote Instruction the Mount Way

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Kraig Sheetz, dean of the School of Natural Science and Mathematics, teaches his general physics class via Zoom.

On a Thursday afternoon, on the first day of spring, Associate Professor of Visual and Performing Arts Nick Hutchings, M.F.A., taught his sculpture class in Barrett Hall. Students logged in—sitting with their lumps of clay in their childhood bedrooms, at desks in front of wallpapered living rooms and in their dad’s workshop—to watch his demonstration.

photo-mar-19,-2-12-03-pm-edit-square-in-text.jpgThe lesson was to watch and learn how to sculpt an object from observation. Through the camera lens he taught them how to form and carve and work the clay using basic tools they could find in their homes, such as a fork or a butter knife. Together, in the space that was once the altar of St. Vincent Chapel, he showed them how to mold the earth in their hands.

“Observation is a practice of slowing down and allowing your hands to trace the form and just observe. It is a practice and a skill that can hopefully be meditative and reflective,” he said.

This week Mount students transitioned to a remote learning environment as students around the nation said goodbye to college campuses and returned home amid the global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus. Faculty quickly adjusted courses to accommodate remote learning.

Members of the School of Education’s Center for Instructional Design and Delivery (CIDD) worked diligently to offer their expertise on Canvas, a learning management system, and Zoom, a video conferencing platform used to create virtual and hybrid classrooms. CIDD Director Laura Frazier, Ed.D., and instructional technologists David Sheads and Jessica Young answered questions, hosted learning sessions and offered instructional options to navigate the remote learning environment, even dedicated a weekend to ensuring that all faculty received the support they needed. Information Technology and Support Center staff provided computer updates and technical support to professors to ease Zoom room setup and review feature preferences.

The Mount also has quickly ramped up a host of its support services to be offered remotely. These include Learning Services, peer tutoring, the Writing Center and student success coaches as well as counseling, library services, Campus Ministry and more. Visit the Student Resources During Remote Instruction page on the Mount website to learn more about the resources that are available to ensure student success.

Hutchings was one of many professors who taught remotely this week. Like others, he had experience with Zoom. In 2018 he taught a hybrid Modernity in Art course when three students participated in a Semester of Service in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He also attended CIDD’s learning session last week.

“There are a lot of options out there to deliver our classes to the student,” he said. “It can be a buffet scenario and I found it best to streamline the process for the students, and myself, which made it easier. The CIDD session helped clarify whether I wanted to use BigBlueButton in Canvas or Zoom.”

Christina L. Yoder, MBA, Ph.D., assistant professor of management at the Richard J. Bolte, Sr. School of Business, instructed her classes online using Canvas, posting lecture slides, recordings and YouTube videos. She also provided virtual office hours to students through Zoom.

“I taught my first online class through Penn State’s World Campus in 2013 and have regularly taught online and blended classes since joining the Mount’s faculty in 2016,” she wrote in an email. As an Advisory Board Member for CIDD, she has worked with Frazier and Sheads for years, enhancing her knowledge and strengthening her skills in teaching online and hybrid classes. Yoder was well prepared, thanks to her training and colleagues, to make the transition for her undergraduate students.

yoder_bailey_remote-3-in-text.jpgOn Monday, the Mount also launched an online MBA program, and Yoder and Lecturer Nancy Kimble are teaching the first two online courses in the program this session. On Wednesday, Yoder posted a photo of her home office and adorably fluffy teaching assistant, Bailey, to the Mount’s Facebook page.

Yoder says she anticipated the closure and discussed the best ways to approach remote learning should the Mount make that transition. “Students seemed eager to continue learning and complete their work. They were a bit anxious how this could impact areas outside the classroom, such as internships, athletics and, for seniors, enjoying those final moments on campus with their friends,” she shared.

As the week ended and the cherry blossom tree near Phillips Library filled the air with a faint smell of rose and lilac, the Magnolia trees outside Delaplaine Fine Arts Center were a beautiful study in color as their star-shaped flowers with 12 narrow petals transitioned from bud to bloom—almost overnight.  

WDVM-TV reporter Jasmine Pelaez showed the beauty and the emptiness of the campus in her report about the Mount’s rapid transition to remote instruction. “This environment is as close to the experience our students will have if they were all sitting here physically in front of me,” Kraig Sheetz, Ph.D., dean of the School of Natural Science and Mathematics, told Pelaez as she reported from his general physics class being conducted via Zoom.

Assistant Professor of Special Education Ernest Solar, Ph.D., who also studies mindfulness, special education, crisis de-escalation and motivation to write, believes all faculty should take the time to interact with their students to understand their fears, anxieties and expectations when their everyday routine is changed.

Prior to teaching his first remote class on Friday, he contacted his students with several announcements outlining his expectations and answering questions. A Canvas power-user, he sent out messages and met with several students via Zoom to provide advice and ease anxieties.

“The School of Education has been offering remote learning opportunities for an entire course for three years,” he said. During the summer of 2017, Solar was asked to modify MEDUC 501: Current Trends in Education to be a fully remote learning course. “From that time forward, I incorporated remote learning opportunities in all of my courses as a way to maximize course delivery,” he said.

Regarding the transition to remote learning, Solar emphasized providing guidance, reassurance and stability.

“I enjoy face-to-face learning because when I teach, I incorporate many stories into my lessons. I find that stories help to connect the content of the course to the real world setting of the classroom,” Solar said. “With remote learning I feel the impact of the stories is not the same. I also enjoy the opportunity to just talk with my students at the beginning of each class. By holding formal conversations, I am able to gage how they are doing in general. Plus, the informal conversations help build a bond between the student and the teacher—which goes a long way in the success of the student in the classroom.”

Katie Shugars, C’20, a criminal justice major, validated Solar’s advice about the value of faculty interacting with students, singling out her appreciation that Assistant Professor of Sociology Layton Field, Ph.D., took the time to ask students what kind of internet access they have and what concerns they had about the transition to remote learning.

“There have been numerous emails sent to us that provide guidance, instruction and encouragement to transition to online courses,” Shugars wrote to the Mount via social media. “I’m hopeful that we will get through all of this together, as we will have a story to tell for future generations to come.”

“My students have been pretty positive about the transition to remote learning,” Hutchings said—with terracotta on his hands. “I think the biggest challenge is the feelings of loss or mourning the students are going through—the athlete’s season cut short, the performance canceled or postponed.”

At the end of this semester, he will evaluate each student’s creation—looking for the struggle and transformation between artist and material. “We cannot control the situation but only our reaction to it,” he said.