UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State faculty and the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence have teamed up to create an ongoing video series for the sharing of good practices for instructors adapting to teaching in the virtual space.
For some professors at Penn State, their big “hack” this past spring semester was a piece of technology that allowed for better collaboration among a physically disconnected class. For others, they focused on trying to bring as much normalcy as possible to a virtual classroom, or gave students space to vent frustrations and identify problems.
These tips were born of a time when professors had to quickly adapt to virtual teaching in the spring 2020 semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deena Levy, an associate research professor and instructional consultant at the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, said her office was hearing about innovation and practical approaches soon after the University went to all-remote class delivery.
“I thought sharing these insights in video form would be immediately useful to instructors while at the same time highlighting the wonderful efforts of our faculty,” Levy said.
Levy and graduate assistant Mona AlQahtani worked to collect and caption the videos, which are available for the public to view. There are 11 videos in the collection so far and the two hope to acquire more and continue the project.
For the videos, faculty were asked to share their main “hack” and explain in a short video how it fit into their course.
Nichola Gutgold, a professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State Lehigh Valley, said she kept in mind that students were learning along with the instructors. For her women’s studies class this past spring, she tried to first model what students would need to do later in the course. For example, since her students would need to present their final project by PowerPoint, she first presented her own PowerPoint.
“Students are just as anxious as we are when it comes to presenting our material in this new format,” Gutgold said.
She said she also kept using a practice in remote instruction that she does for in-person instruction: using students names when giving them feedback.
“It’s a small thing, and yet it goes a long way to help students feel like this is still a rich experience even though I’m not actually in that room with them,” she said.
Patrick Dudas, assistant teaching professor of Information Sciences and Technology, learned in March he would have to move three of his undergraduate courses online, with two of them numbering about 50 students and one of them with 100. Dudas shared information about Kahoot!, an online platform that allowed him to set up quizzes in a competitive format. While he didn’t grade these online quizzes, Dudas said it allowed students to engage in the material in a game format. He said he also uses interactive notebooks in both his classes and in an undergraduate research project to allow for better sharing of analytical and programming components.
Raquel Lodeiro got students in her Spanish courses talking about what was around them wherever they happened to be, and had students introduce family members and pets. For the final oral examination, Lodeiro, a lecturer at Penn State Harrisburg, said she let students connect on their own and record their conversations, something normally done in front of other students in the classroom. She then gave them feedback on their word usage and pronunciation and allowed them to rerecord up until the deadline.
“The benefit is I can see how they are comfortable at home and they are able to Zoom, and they’re in a safe environment,” Lodeiro said. “Usually they have a difficult time performing in front of others in the classroom. I think maybe in my future courses I will give them this option.”
Kelsey Kirk, a lecturer in information technology, also broke students out into different Zoom rooms and said it seemed to help those who were reluctant to talk in large classes. Kirk also added that because her courses are technical and hands-on, she provided detailed instructions in multiple forms for installing software. Not only did this provide a different way for students to get the information, it helped those who had bandwidth issues and couldn’t as easily stream videos.
Martha Strickland, associate professor of education at Penn State Harrisburg, said she was at first worried about going totally remote with courses.
“As soon as I thought about it as an educational psychologist, I thought oh no! The students! That's the same screen they're going to use for Netflix,” she said. “It’s the same screen they use for gaming.”
In response, Strickland said she worked each week at being a learning coach and helping students get into the right mode for learning.
“Switching course midway through the semester to an entirely remote teaching environment, and with very little notice, is indeed a huge challenge on so many levels,” Levy said. “While many supports for this transition at the institutional level were quickly put into place, it is important to acknowledge the tremendous effort of our faculty to support each other.”
Levy said that faculty voluntary lent their time to creating teaching communities in online spaces to ask questions, share ideas and troubleshoot technology during the spring semester.
“The faculty who have participated in these communities of practice, informal exchanges and video production efforts have gone above and beyond in a moment when there have been incredible demands on their time,” she said. “While the Schreyer Institute supports our faculty in all aspects of teaching and learning, we are cognizant of the fact that we are part of larger team which includes the faculty themselves in these efforts. The Penn State faculty community is really something quite special.”
The Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence is part of the Penn State Office of Undergraduate Education, the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at undergrad.psu.edu.