When the pandemic hit in Spring 2020, Mount professors and students quickly switched to online learning. Eighteen months later, selected faculty members shared some lessons learned in a panel discussion at Convocation, “Teaching During a Pandemic: Resiliency, Transitioning and Returning to Campus,” led by Lia Roberts, PhD, chair and professor of history and political science and director of the Center for Global Initiatives.
Roberts said that she quickly realized not everything done in a classroom could be replicated online. “In the regular classroom, we would separate into small groups and debate. But in an online classroom, breaking into discussion rooms rarely worked unless I set specific goals. Otherwise, everyone was silent.”
Other activities, however, did translate. “Simulations where students had assigned roles as various political actors worked well,” she said. “Students were just as engaged as they would be otherwise.”
Teaching during the pandemic also brought innovation. Emerald Archer, PhD, associate professor of history and political science and director of the Center for the Advancement of Women, found success in pairing her students with international students through the virtual exchange program Soliya to discuss issues like the pandemic and global warming. “Students loved it,” she said. “One told me she learned how to be an active listener and understand different world issues.”
Stephen Inrig, PhD, director and professor of health policy and management, found it helpful to distribute his lectures in advance. “I had a flipped classroom where I pre-recorded my lectures, and then our online classes were much more a discussion,” he said.
Inrig also found that the experience caused him to examine his own pedagogy. “It forced me to think through how I communicate to make sure I was addressing different learning styles, and come up with teaching methods to do that,” he said. “It helped me ensure engagement in ways that I can bring into the classroom.”
While many things changed, some Mount traditions were able to continue in the virtual format. Last year, students competed in both Moot Court and Mock Trial virtually and placed in the top 10 nationwide. “There certainly are things that are different in Zoom,” said Helen Boutrous, PhD, JD, professor of political science and director of the pre-law program. “Students needed to learn how to frame themselves on screen and maintain eye contact. But the core of how we prepared for Moot remained the same, with some tricks of the trade thrown in.”
Students faced challenges adapting to the online environment too, like dealing with competing demands. “I remember wondering, ‘How do I make sure that I'm in the classroom and not thinking that my brother's really hungry for dinner?’” said Samantha Vasquez ’21.
Despite challenges, Vasquez saw benefits to this new frontier. “Zoom gives you the ability to be in two places at once,” she said. “This past year I was learning in Los Angeles while working at my internship in Georgia. I've never had the opportunity to do that before.”
Overall, online learning can be fun, engaging, and educational. “It’s no longer about surviving,” said Vasquez. “Now, it’s about thriving.”