The Nimble Campus
Tools and techniques from the sudden shift will benefit students even after the pandemic is behind us.
Eight months after the pandemic scattered students far from campus, the virtual “sandboxes” where faculty tested remote-teaching technology have evolved. A lot.
Those “sandboxes” are now the brick-and-mortar classrooms themselves.
In March, Diane Boyd and Ben Haywood, executive director and assistant director, respectively, of Furman’s Faculty Development Center, met virtually with 200 faculty members in five days for a crash course on remote instruction. Over the summer, nearly 100 faculty further participated in course redesign workshops and seminars to experiment with online and blended learning techniques, refining and expanding on what they had to learn so quickly in the spring.
Now that most Furman students are back on campus for the fall semester, the work that Furman faculty and staff began as the coronavirus spread in March has ramped up, both in preparation and new technology.
“We’re doing teaching demonstrations in super blinged-out classrooms,” says Boyd.
Learning Technology Services, a unit of Information Technology Services, has rapidly outfitted every classroom with remote-ready capabilities, including a wall-mounted camera that can pan to provide views of every angle of the classroom, a camera integrated in the teaching station computer for most classrooms that crisply shows instructors as they explain material, microphones and speakers that allow clear communication and interaction between face-to-face and remote students, and an integrated document camera, which acts as a whiteboard that allows students attending class virtually to see the instructor’s annotated documents, diagrams, notes or calculations.
Some faculty are re-examining their pre-COVID-19 practices. For instance, how do you give an exam to students who are not all sitting together in a shared classroom? How do we orchestrate group work in a physically-distanced classroom?
“Our faculty colleagues have embraced the challenge with a successful blend of curiosity, ingenuity, expertise and care for students”
– Diane Boyd, executive director of Faculty Development Center
Haywood says the center tries to help faculty view this as a time to develop more applied and forward-thinking strategies that will enhance learning well beyond the pandemic.
“The restrictions challenge faculty to look for new ways to help students demonstrate their growth and learning,” says Boyd.
Rethinking how we assess learning “is an opportunity to make assessment more applicable to real-world situations,” she says, “and to allow students to be more creative in the ways they demonstrate they’ve learned the material. Ultimately, this kind of critical thinking is what The Furman Advantage is all about.”
‘Proud to work here’
Judy Bagley, director of Furman’s Student Office for Accessibility Resources, noticed how the campus community came together to support students. SOAR, tasked with creating an accessible, inclusive learning environment for students with disabilities, has been working with faculty to accommodate students who need extended time on tests by increasing the time allowed on Moodle, Furman’s learning management system. In other cases, the office proctored exams through Zoom videoconferencin
But sometimes accommodations used in regular classrooms aren’t suitable for remote work. For instance, some hearing-impaired students use FM devices that enhance hearing aids in class, and their professors wear a microphone that feeds directly into their cochlear implant. But the system doesn’t work well over the computer, so SOAR set up live captioning to give students equal access to lectures.
“Furman has stepped up, and it makes me proud to work here,” Bagley says.
Furman Libraries are also playing a key role.
Early in the pandemic, library staff helped faculty access the resources they needed to move classes online, staying open so faculty could attend workshops and get tech support.
“Everybody in the library had a role to play because we all worked together to support students,” says Jenny Colvin, assistant director for outreach for the libraries.
Research assistance was available virtually until 10 p.m. most nights. Students and faculty could make appointments with librarians for research consultations conducted over the phone or video conference. If a student needed material that wasn’t available digitally, library staff scanned it and sent it to them.
Furman’s outreach librarians also met with classes live through videoconferencing, recording lectures that students could access through shared online spaces, and creating web tutorials to fill in gaps.
Meanwhile Student Life is addressing a different kind of gap – the kind that affects students’ well-being. An array of health and wellness, as well as social opportunities, are available to students virtually.
Is this thing on?
Faculty members value personal interaction with students every bit as much as the students do, says Susan Dunnavant, director of learning technologies for Information Technology Services.
“Interacting remotely is not the same as the personal attention so highly prized at Furman,” she says. “And the adjustments require not only appropriate technology, but innovative and resourceful use of it.”
ITS helped students adapt in a variety of ways, and even provided loaner technology for students who did not have hardware or devices so they could take part in activities and classes.
When assisting faculty, ITS fielded initial concerns having to do with mechanics – how to set up a video meeting, how to share material and whether a user’s camera worked. But faculty members’ requests grew more sophisticated. They began asking how their students could work together on projects and then practice before presenting something to the whole class.
“On the other end of this,” says Dunnavant, “I think some faculty members may end up using some of these tools in a limited fashion as an enhancement to the things they’re doing in the classroom.”