Kent State Faculty Ready to Rock Remote Teaching After Summer of Preparation
Kent State University faculty have worked diligently over the summer to improve their skills at teaching remotely.
Nearly 1,000 faculty members from across all eight campuses took part in a variety of workshops and webinars to help them learn more about the art of teaching remotely, and how to best engage their students online.
Jennifer Marcinkiewicz, Ph.D., director of Kent State’s Center for Teaching and Learning, said the COVID-19 pandemic presented a unique opportunity for faculty to improve their remote instruction capabilities.
The center works to address the needs of faculty and offers support for face-to-face instruction. When the pandemic resulted in the closing of all campuses in March, Marcinkiewicz said faculty were forced to finish out the semester with little time to plan for the conversion to remote learning.
The summer, however, provided the time faculty needed to better prepare and the university stepped up to offer the needed training so that remote learning will be a truly vibrant and engaging experience for students in fall semester.
Marcinkiewicz and LeighAnn Tomaswick, an innovation learning design specialist in the Center for Teaching and Learning, teamed up with Ben Hollis, Ph.D., executive director of Kent State Online, for a series of workshops to help faculty decide how to best engage with their students.
Hollis manages a team of instructional designers in the Office of Continuing and Distance Education who assist faculty with online course development and
works closely with the Division of Information Technology to ensure technology availability and support.
Courses designated as online courses have been specifically designed for online delivery which students may access at any time, allowing them great flexibility in scheduling their schoolwork around their jobs and family concerns.
Remote learning, though, is a course that normally takes place in-person that has been converted to a virtual experience.
Remote courses can take various forms and can be as basic as a professor offering live lectures online, meeting regularly as if the course was in-person. But technology allows for a variety of formats and a mix of teaching techniques often makes for the best learning experience for students, Marcinkiewicz explained.
With many faculty members not used to teaching remotely, Marcinkiewicz and Hollis felt that most would benefit from additional training. About 60% of fall 2020 classes will be offered remotely this semester to keep students and faculty safe during the pandemic.
They approached Interim Senior Vice President and Provost Melody Tankersley, Ph.D., who provided an enthusiastic go-ahead and substantial financial support for the summer workshops. The training was offered as five, intensive five-day workshops and seven half-day workshops.
Marcinkiewicz said they had hoped for 50 to 100 faculty members to take part in the workshops and were pleased with the large number who signed up. In total, 800 professors took the summer workshops, and, Hollis said additional 170 took part in online teaching orientation that Kent State Online offers each semester.
“We were very pleasantly surprised,” Marcinkiewicz said. “Our faculty are really, really dedicated to doing the best they can for their students. Our faculty really, truly care. Their want their students to have the best possible learning experience.”
Faculty from every campus, and every college took part, and every type of instructors from tenured professors to part-time adjunct instructors and graduate student instructors. All participants also were asked to share their training with others in their academic units who couldn’t attend and to make themselves available for training others within their sections.
Marcinkiewicz said remote learning offers plenty of opportunities for simultaneous learning, in which the group attends a remote class together at a scheduled time and would see a live lecture as if they were attending the class in person.
But trainers also wanted to show how a mix of simultaneous and non-simultaneous learning, as well as teaching tools such as group discussions, breakout sessions and short videos can add variety to a remote class and make for a more dynamic learning experience for students.
Hollis said a big part of the training was getting faculty members accustomed to using the university’s remote learning technology and showing them all they can do with it.
An even bigger part of the training, however, was having faculty use the university’s online learning platform as a student would to see first-hand what a student goes through in a remote class. Some professors learned just how challenging remote learning can be for students, which created an empathy that should benefit the students throughout the semester, Marcinkiewicz said.
In addition, the workshops included a talk by associate professor Tina Bhargava, Dr.P.H., from the College of Public Health, who shared perspectives on students’ cognitive bandwidths, or mental capacity, so that faculty would have a deeper understanding of how students mentally adapt and change during times of dramatic learning changes, and how to keep them engaged.
Hollis said one of the key points emphasized was the need for communication with students, early and often, to help them find their way through this new way of learning.
“We discussed ways of being flexible, communicating with your students often, and empathy and grace,” Hollis said.
Hollis said he was impressed by how excited faculty members seemed and how they all worked together so well.
Faculty who shared their thoughts at the end of the training expressed much positive feedback on the workshops.
“I was hoping for a boost in my online teaching confidence,” said Kristine Harrington, lecturer in the Department of English, who teaches at the Salem Campus. “This workshop has given me this boost, and even more, it has propelled me into a `This is going to be a blast’ headspace as I plan my fall courses.”
H. Gerrey Noh, Ph.D., assistant professor of music theory in the Hugh A. Glauser School of Music, called the workshops eye-opening, and praised the help the instructors gave her both before and after the training ended.
“I decided to attend the workshop with an expectation of getting much needed technical training in remote instruction,” she said. “Surprisingly, after the five days of the workshop, the most valuable lesson I took away was the realization that how much different remote/online teaching must be from the traditional in-person teaching, how much I had to re-think teaching in general. Now I find myself approaching the upcoming semester(s) with a much different teaching philosophy and a renewed confidence … I am a better teacher because of this workshop.”
Hollis said he is confident Kent State’s faculty is ready to deliver a world-class education this fall. “I’m so proud of our leadership, our faculty and our instructional design team. We are as ready as one can be and I think we are very well positioned,” he said.
“I have a great deal of confidence in our faculty and their ability to pull this off successfully,” Marcinkiewic said. “They feel a great deal of support from the university. Kent State doing a lot more than most universities to support their instructors and have devoted more time and more resources to this effort than most universities facing this similar challenge.”