Three weeks ago, Joanne Leight expected to be back at her office in Morrow Field House, preparing for her classes in the physical and health education department to start again following spring break.
But like many professors across campus, Leight has spent this past week assisting her colleagues in managing a task no department at SRU has never done before: moving all courses online in the middle of the semester.
As chairperson, Leight joined Zoom calls with her fellow professors in the physical and health education department as they order webcams and microphones for online learning and decide how to modify their most hands-on courses, such as scuba diving, to a new modality.
All while leading her own department, Leight offered her help as one of 25 mentors to assist the Center for Teaching and Learning as it helps train faculty members to teach online courses.
“We’re trying to support my colleagues in the department as best as we can through emails, through Zoom calls, through resources that I’ve been sending to them, and just trying to find the best way to serve our students because they are and always will be our number one priority,” Leight said.
— Dr. Leight (@Dr_Leight) March 18, 2020
Last week, faculty members across all academic departments have begun the process of converting courses online. This mass preparation began after SRU President William Behre announced March 16 that all face-to-face courses for the rest of the semester will be delivered via online instruction starting on March 30 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, SRU faculty have one more week to prepare their courses for online delivery.
Since the original announcement of SRU’s extended spring break, SRU’s Center for Teaching and Learning has compiled materials to assist faculty in converting their courses to an online format.
Brian Danielson, the director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, said professional development materials were already online prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
“A lot of our instructional content and professional development content for faculty is already digital,” Danielson said. “What we were able to do is kind of pull together our entire catalog of instructional videos and online digital resources and kind of repackage them.”
The center is also offering Educational Technology Workshops via Zoom, SRU’s virtual classroom and webinar software, for faculty to prepare for online instruction. The two different workshops will focus on Zoom (for synchronous learning) and online lesson creation (for asynchronous learning).
The Center for Teaching and Learning also operates a page on SRU’s website concerning faculty professional development and is continuing to develop its resource tab on instructional continuity.
According to the resource tab, the Center for Teaching and Learning recommends these basic steps for faculty members to convert their courses to online instruction:
- Develop a communication plan and inform students
- Organize instruction by weeks
- Develop weekly objectives
- Determine instructional materials needed for each week
- Upload instructional materials to D2L
- Determine assessment methods for each week
- Build assessments into D2L
Danielson added that not all five weeks of instruction need to be prepared before classes resume on March 30.
For students, D2L technical support will expand to 24 hours each day. Between 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., calls will be answered by the Center for Teaching and Learning. After 4:30 p.m., calls will be answered by D2L technicians.
On March 12, the Facebook page for SRU’s chapter of the Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties (APSCUF) shared a call for faculty volunteers to assist with the Center for Teaching and Learning. As of Monday afternoon, 25 faculty members have offered to serve as faculty mentors. These mentors represent all four of SRU’s academic colleges as well as academic services.
Jason Hilton, vice president of SRU’s APSCUF chapter, said that some faculty reached out to himself and Ben Shaevitz, SRU APSCUF president, to assist the Center for Teaching and Learning, prompting the union to post a call for volunteers on Facebook.
“As we sort of randomly began to collect those things and forward them onto the Center for Teaching and Learning, it occurred to us that if we had a bigger push, we might get even more faculty to identify, but also that we wanted to provide the Center for Teaching and Learning with consistent information about the faculty,” Hilton said of SRU APSCUF’s decision to post the call for volunteers.
These “resident experts,” according to Danielson, will assist other professors in D2L, Zoom, PowerPoint, MediaSpace and VoiceThread. The faculty mentors are able to support other faculty members with one-on-one support, a type of support the Center for Teaching and Learning may not be able to provide in its current upscaled form.
“We’re not resources with the staff to provide one-on-one support for faculty, so if a faculty member’s never taught online before, they need to sit down with somebody one-on-one to receive some kind of training,” Danielson said.
As a former faculty fellow in the Center for Teaching and Learning, Leight said she respects Danielson and his center for their work during the time of the coronavirus pandemic and wanted to help alleviate some of the pressure on them if she was able to do so.
“It’s what we do at Slippery Rock,” Leight said. “We step up, we help each other out, and if I know enough to help someone else, I’d be doing a disservice to the university if I didn’t try to help out.”
As of last Thursday, Leight said no faculty members outside of her department have reached out for support.
For some courses offered at SRU, there are specific concerns about how the courses may shift online. Danielson said that instructional design professionals and faculty members are in “new territory” as they convert to online instruction during the coronavirus pandemic.
“There are certainly some things that cannot go online, and so we are working with faculty to come up with ways to manage that,” Danielson said. “This is new territory for everybody, so even instructional design professionals like myself and our faculty are encountering situations that have just never been encountered before. It’s a collaboration that’s requiring quite a bit of creativity, but everyone has an open mind that I’ve worked with so far on trying to find creative ways to make that happen.”
In Leight’s own department, students will not be able to receive certifications as part of certain courses, including lifeguarding and scuba diving, since they cannot demonstrate their knowledge of the skills without face-to-face instruction.
In those classes, the professors will use videos and online resources to complete the rest of the course. The American Red Cross has given permission for professors to post its exam online for one attempt.
“Students will be able to at least take the exam and pass the course, but they won’t get the certification because they don’t have the skills done,” Leight said. “That’s the drawback to this, but that’s nothing that we can control, but we will still give them the information the best that we can.”
SRU APSCUF’s Hilton, who has published research about critical dialogue in online courses, commended them for their hard work and engagement while modifying their courses for online.
“Never has a college just gone online in the middle of the semester,” Hilton said. “I’m so proud of our faculty because they have just taken after this. We’ve gotten very few instances of pushback, but we’ve gotten so many faculty who have so many ideas and are trying to make the online version of their courses as high quality and as effective as the in-person versions of their courses.”
Editor’s note: In addition to being vice president of SRU’s APSCUF chapter, Jason Hilton is also the director of the Honors College. Two staff members, including the author of this piece, are Honors College members. Due to the timing of the coronavirus pandemic during initial interviews, no other staff members were available to write this piece.
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