In the course of a few days, North Central College’s entire academic class schedule—900 sections—was readied for remote instruction in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Feature News

COVID-19 creates opportunities for inspired instruction during remote learning


Laura Pohl

May 15, 2020

Faculty embrace the challenge of teaching from a social distance

In the course of a few days, the College’s entire academic class schedule—900 sections—was readied for remote instruction.

In addition, more than 130 faculty and staff needed training to transition their teaching to a platform called Blackboard Collaborate, the College’s primary tool for virtual classroom learning and web conferencing.

“The effort of the campus was inspiring, as we rapidly moved to emergency remote instruction,” said Jennifer Keys, assistant provost for teaching and learning and director of CAFÉ. “Faculty demonstrated an innovative and collaborative spirit by embracing new forms of educational technology—with the help of Information Technology Services. They also continued to foster the meaningful connections we have with our students.”

Assisting with the transition were CAFÉ instructional designers Staylor Anamuah-Mensah and Scott Sandifur. “An essential part of our process was addressing faculty questions and concerns through virtual workshops and one-on-one consultations,” said Anamuah-Mensah.

Their challenges included showing faculty “replicate some if not all of their face-to-face activities with online activities,” he said. “Importantly, we worked with ITS to ensure faculty had equipment like web cameras for class meetings. We quickly developed tutorials and other resources for guidance.”

Chemistry lab experiments were replicated for videos students viewed and analyzed during remote instruction.

Chemistry lab experiments were replicated for videos students viewed and analyzed during remote instruction.

Looking for silver linings

Faculty quickly adapted their curricula for remote settings. For some science courses, computer research replaced labs, such as explorations related to the pandemic. Biology 201 students led by Jonathon Visick, professor of biology, used bioinformatics to research the SARS-COV-2 virus, Students in the Infectious Disease course taught by Greg Ruthig, associate professor of biology, modeled historic epidemics.

Chemistry professors made videos of lab assignments. “Students collected the data for graphs and other formats,” said Paul Brandt professor of chemistry. “The lab instructors could answer students’ questions during lab hours on Blackboard Collaborate.”

In the art and design department, “we adapted the assignments so students could work on projects at home (like sculpture for their yards/homes) though they might not be using the same materials as in the studio,” said Christine Rabenold, associate professor of art and design. She added that senior art majors held a virtual art exhibit in place of an annual gallery event on campus.

A virtual exhibit showcased the artistic talents of North Central's senior art majors.

A virtual exhibit showcased the artistic talents of North Central's senior art majors.

Bill Muck, professor of political science, said that his Global Studies capstone seminar “has gotten better since we’ve gone online,” with students participating from a variety of states and Japan. “I am able to share my presentation remotely with the students and we have class very much like we do in the classroom.”

“This seminar class is a great one to be paired up with a global pandemic because we’ve analyzed and reflected on the nature of power and travel patterns throughout the world,” said global studies and political science major Ella Omi ’21. “But I miss physically being in the presence of those who think the way I do.”

And faculty miss their students, too, like Carly Drake, assistant professor of marketing. “I started hosting little online parties and a career Q&A session to get my students connected to each other,” she said.

Global studies students participated in robust discussions about international issues as they relate to a global pandemic like COVID-19. 

Global studies students in Professor Bill Muck's class participated in robust discussions about international issues as they relate to a global pandemic like COVID-19. 

Connections are key

Faculty were also challenged to respond to the changing needs of their students away from campus. Tammy Wynard, assistant professor of health science, applied her expertise to understanding how to address students’ ability to learn in less than ideal circumstances.

“We have students whose capacity to learn has changed because they’re in survival mode,” she said. “They may have lost their jobs or they have to work more to help support their families––it's hard for them thrive academically. Some needed laptops and access to the Internet.” She said she was glad faculty advocated for a pass/no pass grading system for this semester.

Wynard explained that research into student learning shows that when faculty see students struggling, it’s important to build on established relationships. “Connecting with students has been critical.”

Wynard is team-teaching the course Human Sexuality with John Zenchak, professor of biology, and they’ve asked for input from students about how they wanted content delivered. “We asked our students to have patience with us, to have forgiveness,” she said. “But this is still a college-level course and we expected them to participate like any course. Pivoting and flexibility––it works both ways, for them and for us.”