As COVID-19 continues to impact the daily operations of Meredith’s campus, faculty and staff are working hard to ensure students still receive a strong education.
With this week’s decision to move all courses to a digital format, faculty and staff are taking the extended spring break to prepare for the transition so they can support students and ensure they complete the semester. Many are going above and beyond to help make the transition as seamless as possible.
Alan Buck, assistant professor of communication and head of the digital communication certificate program, shared the following uplifting photo on Monday along with the caption: "All of my students, take note! I’m on a training session learning how to take our classes online. And I’ve got my Cheetos. All is good. #Zoom #Cheetos #MeredithCollege"
Buck is one of many instructors spending this week learning more about digital instruction so he can better support his students. Like many instructors at Meredith, Buck typically focuses on in-person meetings and group projects to provide students with real world learning opportunities, so he’s having to get creative and reimagine his curriculum.
As someone who has spent a career in news, Buck said he thought he had seen it all. He never imagined having to draft new syllabi halfway through the semester. Though the task poses a challenge, he remains optimistic. He told students in an encouraging email on Wednesday: “I am learning this week how to move our class online, so I ask that you please be patient with me, and I will do the same for you. This is new territory for all of us, and we will get through it together.”
He imagined students might respond with questions like, “but what about my grades?” or “how are we supposed to finish our projects?”
“I didn’t get a single one of those questions,” said Buck. Instead, he was flooded with messages from students offering nothing but understanding and support.
The Instructional Design & Academic Technology (IDAT) team has been working hard to help teach faculty and staff about different technology to help them instruct their courses remotely. So far this week, the IDAT team has held training sessions on Zoom, Brightspace, and Techsmith Relay.
Some instructors have already been proactive in reaching out to students to check on them and test out the technology. Carol Finley, head of the dance and theatre department, held an informal Zoom video call with her dance students and faculty on Monday. “Students had a disappointing blow before the modified semester was announced as their annual trip to the American College Dance Association conference was canceled days before we were supposed to leave,” she said. “Then, they were feeling particularly anxious about the status of our spring show, DanceWorks, for which over 60 students have been preparing.”
To help calm the anxiety many of her students were feeling, Finley called the meeting and found that the mood was surprisingly joyful. “It was reassuring to know that none of us are in this alone,” she said. “It was also a fun, low-stakes way to get familiar with Zoom as we explored options together.”
Finley is prepared to host all dance courses and rehearsals via Zoom once spring break is over, and many students are feeling better about the transition now that they’ve had a chance to test it out. “It was really relieving for me,” said dance major, Macy Messer. “Especially because I just miss everyone.”
The additional steps faculty and staff are taking to protect their Meredith experience haven’t gone unnoticed by students. “Technology services and the library have been working really hard to make sure we still get the classroom experience via webcam,” said senior business major Sydney Hardee. “They’ve been working non-stop to help our professors learn this new way of teaching to make sure we get the best education possible.”
Aside from technology services, many other campus leaders have stepped up to offer assistance as well. Tina Romanelli, head of the learning center, is working with tutors on ways to support digital learning from both the student and instructor perspective. Additionally, faculty members have been sharing best practices and helpful tips with one another.
As President Jo Allen said in an address to faculty and staff on Monday, the primary concern right now is to ensure seniors graduate on time and all students complete the semester. Allen acknowledged that it wouldn’t be easy, but that everyone would come out stronger on the other side:
“Ultimately, when this is all over, we’ll be asked what we learned. About risks, about information and messages, about healthcare, about student life decisions, employee situations, educational strategies, technological solutions, and so much more,” said Allen.
“Mostly, we’ll be asked what we learned about ourselves. I have no doubt that it will be that we cared deeply for each other. That we acted bravely, and with courage and kindness, in getting through a difficult time. We’ve seen adversity before and we have rebounded,” she said.
“And we will do that again.”