No single way of teaching this fall

UND faculty learn more about the classroom technology that’ll be key to hybrid courses

Chemistry Professor David Pierce demonstrates a lab experiment during a technology demonstration session for UND faculty led by UIT and TTaDA on July 24. Photo by Dima Williams/UND Today.

Chemistry Professor David Pierce emerged in the lecture room from a side door carrying three large vials, each filled with colored water – one crystal blue, one hot pink and the third inky violet. He placed them on a large desk, then stepped to the computer several feet away to switch on the camera attached to the ceiling, right above the flasks.

The image beamed on the computer screens of several dozen people following his chemistry experiment via Zoom. If this had been one of Pierce’s classes this fall semester, those people would have been students. But last Friday, about a month before the start of the term, Pierce was interacting with fellow faculty at the University of North Dakota, most of whom had tuned in online, via Zoom.

About 10 other faculty members watched Pierce in person as he shared – and showed – how he would structure his three courses this fall, including a lab class, when UND will blend online and in-person education in response to COVID-19.

Pierce released carbon dioxide in the water, which produced carbonic acid, whose presence slowly altered the hues in the vials. He jotted down the chemical reaction on a piece of paper that rested on a writing pad with a camera perched above it, so that both those in the lecture bowl and on Zoom could see as he wrote.

Pierce’s quick experiment transpired at the end of a technology training session for faculty led by University IT (UIT) and the Teaching Transformation and Development Academy (TTaDA) last Friday. The session focused on technologies such as Zoom and YuJa that allow for both live-video and recorded instruction as well as several applications for virtual whiteboards, including the Wacom tablets UIT has installed in classrooms.

“I already use a lot of the resources that they talked about,” Pierce said. “But how do I use those resources when I have a face-to-face class along with people that are going to be online? That can get very challenging. You can imagine that from an instructor’s point of view: you’re up at the podium, you’re trying to coordinate audio and video, you’re trying to provide a lesson and help students. One of the take-home messages here is that faculty are trying to prepare and to make sure that we’re ready to do all those things.”

This fall semester at UND, students will be able to attend classes online and in-person in accordance with COVID-19 safety measures. While many professors and lecturers have taught at least one online class before, the blended approach to teaching will require different, more rigorous preparation.

Lynette Krenelka (to the right of the podium in orange blouse), TTaDA’s executive director, and Chief Information Officer Madhavi Marasinghe (center in green blouse and black blazer) lead the technology training, which streamed online for virtual attendants as well. Photo by Dima Williams/UND Today.

Over the summer months, TTaDA’s instructional designers have been working with individual faculty members to help them revamp their courses for mixed synchronous and asynchronous delivery.

“There’s not one specific way that faculty are teaching this fall,” said Lynette Krenelka, executive director of TTaDA. “It’s a combination of anything and everything. It’s been exciting to work with them, and they are working hard.”

Krenelka’s team is helping hundreds of instructors on issues big and small – what video recording platform to use; how to engage students, some of whom are physically present while others attend remotely; what kind of homework to assign in a paperless environment.

TTaDA is also supporting some 175 faculty members in the process of transforming once conventional lectures and lab classes into fully online courses.

Some innovative methods that are emerging both at UND and around the country include the so-called flipped classroom arrangement, where the time usually spent on lectures is used for in-class discussions and activities. Another approach is the HyFlex model, which allows students to decide whether to join each class meeting physically or virtually. While this scenario affords students a lot of flexibility, it calls for diligent planning.

For UND President Andy Armacost, the heightened level of organization and preparation reminds him of the time when he was a fledgling educator in the mid-90s.

“Thinking about the action in the classroom and how I designed my lessons really took a lot of time as a brand new professor,” Armacost told the faculty who had gathered for last Friday’s technology demonstration. “I feel like we’re going back to those early days again, because what you’re accustomed to in terms of how you interact with your students, how you lay out your lessons and how you interact with technology, you have to really think through all that again.”

UND President Andy Armacost expressed his gratitude to faculty for their hard work preparing for the fall semester, when classes will follow a blended structure of online and in-person instruction. Photo by Dima Williams/ UND Today.

For Pierce, some of the heftiest changes have occurred in the chemistry lab course he is teaching this fall. He is likely to use additional rooms to bring in more equipment, which can now be used by a single student instead of several at the same time. Pairing up students to conduct experiments, a common practice before the pandemic, is out of the question (unless one partner is participating virtually). And, the types of lab exercises also are being reconsidered due to the new constraints brought about by the needs for physical distance and remote education.

Faculty’s ability to redesign their courses without compromising quality, to an extent, hinges on their willingness to explore and learn technologies that they may have never had to rely on before. Because that order might be a tall one for many educators, who are being pressed to rapidly adjust to unconventional modes of teaching, UND’s Chief Information Officer Madhavi Marasinghe advises faculty to simply “practice, practice, practice.” Repeat, she said, even the small, trivial things such as signing into Zoom with the correct account or checking whether the YuJa recording is picking up the right audio.

The technology demonstration UIT and TTaDA presented on Friday was one aspect of the broad assistance the two offices offer faculty with reimagining their lectures, selecting the platforms (Zoom, Yuja, Blackboard, to name a few) to deliver content and mastering new in-class equipment.

“It’s unprecedented. You’re looking at providing educational opportunities not just online and not just on campus, but in every way you can possibly imagine, combining a variety of approaches and solutions,” said Jeff Holm, vice provost for online education and strategic planning.

Talking with faculty last week, Armacost said, “I know that you’ll rise to the challenge of how we teach in this distance world when education is really an up-close-and-personal interaction with your students.”