When Assistant Professor of Government Mara Suttmann-Lea tweeted a picture of podcast equipment set up in her cozy home-office space, she captioned the picture, “Coming soon from my cabin in the woods, a ‘Podcast About American Politics.’”
She added the trending pandemic hashtag: #SocialDistancing.
After Connecticut College went remote on March 11, Conn’s faculty found innovative ways to adapt their in-person courses for remote instruction.
“It’s important to make learning as equitable as possible. Some students may not have consistent access to the internet, or a computer with a microphone or a video camera. I think being open and flexible is really key, both for students and myself,” Suttmann-Lea said.
Michael Reder, director of the College’s Joy Shechtman Mankoff Center for Teaching & Learning (CTL), along with his colleagues in the CTL and in Conn’s Information Technology group, created a tip sheet, “11 Teaching-Focused Things to Consider when Moving Your Course Online.” It has been shared hundreds of times and prompted inquiries from faculty as far away as Germany.
“Our students are going to learn better, and our faculty are going to teach better, when they feel connected and emotionally safe. It’s important to establish that online before you even start the other parts of the course,” Reder told The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Lexi Pope ’21 said her professors have done a great job staying connected and acknowledging students’ unique circumstances.
“They made it clear that they were available to support and help us,” she said.
A psychology major and scholar in the Bodies/Embodiment Pathway, Pope created a study space in her home in Massachusetts.
“It speaks highly of Conn that I still felt a sense of community even when
we were so far apart,” she said. “We used social media and technology to our advantage. The Conn community remained very active, and things like workout classes, motivation and advice were floating around. Students were reaching out and coming up with new ways to stay connected.”
Because Conn is a global community, Marc Zimmer, the Jean C. Tempel ’65 Professor of Chemistry, quickly realized he’d have to adopt different approaches for his different classes.
“My ‘Introduction to Chemistry’ class had students in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Africa, Hawaii—all over the world,” Zimmer said. “It would have been impossible to teach all of them at the same time.”
For that class, Zimmer recorded lectures, provided materials to download and broke the class into smaller discussion groups that took into account their various time zones.
Zimmer scrapped plans to teach “Good Science, Bad Science, New Science, Old Science.” Instead, he taught “COVID-19: Diseases Without Borders.” It covered the impact of globalization, high-density housing and food supplies, as well as the differences in the international responses to different epidemics.
“I reminded students of all the chemistry that we learned in class that the coronavirus test uses,” he said. “It was a great opportunity to show them chemistry is not all theoretical; it has important practical uses.’”
Some faculty in fields that rely heavily on in-person experiences, including the arts, had to get extra creative.
“I am so amazed at all of my colleagues at the College,” said Professor of Dance David Dorfman. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Many faculty and worldwide dance artists are still making dances, podcasts and master classes available online. There’s a lot we could work from.”
For courses, including “Dancers Act, Actors Dance,” Dorfman worked with students to identify spaces in their homes where they could dance.
“Sometimes it was a hallway, or a rec room, or part of a living room. Sometimes it was outside,” Dorfman said. “We made it happen.”