Fairfield Faculty and Students Pivot to Innovative Virtual Learning

Fairfield Faculty and Students Pivot to Innovative Virtual Learning

Screen shot of a Zoom meeting

Twenty-nine nursing students (many pictured above) who began their semester in Galway, Ireland are transitioning from life abroad with the help of Assistant Professor Linda Roney, using virtual lab simulations and other online teaching tools.

Fairfield faculty members have led the charge in pivoting to teach online with speed, creativity, and innovation after all spring 2020 courses were moved online due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Following the University announcement that all classes would be moved online after the spring recess due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, Fairfield faculty members have led the charge in pivoting to teach online with speed and creativity.

Associate Vice Provost for Pedagogical Innovation & Effectiveness Jay Rozgonyi said what is normally a six-week process to get faculty effectively using online teaching tools was instead compressed into seven simple principles. The move online was announced on March 11 and was underway by March 16.

“We normally take faculty who develop online courses through a six-week process to understand the unique environment of online,” he said. “We distilled seven principles for everyone to follow and a small set of tech tools to deliver their courses, and it has gone remarkably well, considering we have 600 instructors.”

Helping Fairfield faculty swiftly transition into online instruction, Rozgonyi shared the following principles: “Don’t forget about your larger course goals and outcomes; stick with a technology platform you know; keep communication flowing; mix synchronous and asynchronous (group projects, online discussion, and multi-part assignments) activities; collect and comment on work submissions electronically; curate and deliver content in a variety of ways; and carefully consider testing options.”

One instructor who has made the transition to teaching fully online is Linda Roney, EdD, RN-BC, CPEN, CNE, assistant professor and Undergraduate Nursing program director at the Marion Peckham Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies.

“I supervise nine senior nursing students as they work in the hospital for their final clinical experience for 110 hours in areas such as the emergency department and intensive care unit,” she said. “Some of our students continue to work at hospitals near home, in roles that they had before the pandemic, as nursing assistants and unit secretaries.We started using Zoom during our weekly meetings because some of the students would be working a shift at the hospital and would break way for our meeting." 

Some of Dr. Roney’s other students were already accustomed to online instruction. But they had additional adjustments to make — for starters, returning to the United States from their study abroad experience in Galway, Ireland.

“They didn’t miss a single class with their return trip home,” Dr. Roney said, “and I actually added a live class to check in with them the Monday after spring break.”

Since returning to the United States, her students have engaged in virtual simulations — they watch videos of past students in the Egan School’s labs caring for patients, and work with faculty to appraise the situations and assess best practices.

For Robert Nazarian, PhD, assistant professor of physics, the first thing he wanted to do for students in his general physics courses was check in and hear what they had to say about the transition to online learning. 

“Students were still trying to find community in this new way of doing things,” he said. “In class, they sit at tables collaboratively and work together to answer questions on white boards.”

After consulting with his colleagues, Dr. Nazarian opted to use Zoom’s "breakout rooms” feature for small-group collaboration, to mimic what his students were accustomed to in class. At times this meant placing them in the same groups they'd been in during class, and at other times they were sorted into groups at random.

“I took a poll on whether to select groups randomly or the same as in class, and it was split right down the middle, so I alternate,” he explained. “I try to include both, to get different points of view and get students to think differently about problems and problem-solving strategies.”

The sciences aren’t the only disciplines where the faculty is adapting to the new teaching format. Assistant professor of history Silvia Marsans-Sakly, PhD, has adapted her coursework to offer students the chance to document their own history of living through the coronavirus pandemic.

“I decided that I could not waste this historic opportunity to have students experience what it is like to create history, so I gave them all a research task of documenting and analyzing their experience of COVID-19, in 250 to 500 words every day (except weekends), until we return,” she explained. 

With instruction to write for an audience 100 years from now, Dr. Marsans-Sakly requested that her students “keep a journal incorporating their individual experience and analyses of the pandemic from their disciplinary perspective using three outside sources, including articles, social media posts, pictures, memes, short videos, etc.”

In the "Literate Learner" course taught by Associate Professor Bryan Ripley Crandall, PhD, in the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions, Dr. Crandall used Zoom’s "breakout rooms" to divide readings between his students, allowing them to create their own interactive presentations to share with the class. The results, Crandall said, were admirable.

“It was probably better than what would have occurred (and been produced) face-to-face, because my students made fast videos and slides to summarize the articles they read,” he said. “I was beyond impressed.”

The Fairfield learning community is transcending the digital divide, finding creative solutions to continue teaching and learning. One thing is for sure: the Jesuit call to educate the whole person knows no barriers.

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