Innovating Through The Pandemic

Innovating Through The Pandemic

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Despite a challenging year, faculty continued to harness technology to their advantage, build community, and engage students in new and exciting ways.

When Julie Berrett-Abebe, PhD, LICSW, joined the School of Education and Human Development in September 2020, she knew she would be referencing her experience as an oncology social worker in her classes. She figured her ability to build trust between herself and her patients would be a plus in her relationship with students, and she anticipated she would rely on plenty of face-to-face time with her colleagues to help her over hurdles. What she didn’t anticipate was a completely remote year of teaching, adjusting her lessons to the Covid-necessitated reality, and watching her students adapt to doing their clinical hours online.

Like everyone else, she learned to harness technology to her advantage, build community online instead of in class, and engage students in small breakout groups. As a result she offered students the chance to create an interactive web project at the end of the year.

“Our community partners were fantastic about providing opportunities for students to do telehealth and behavioral health work online,” said Dr. Berrett-Abebe. It wasn’t a first choice, but it’s still a valuable skill set and a modality that will continue in the future.”

Assistant Professor of Counselor Education Stephaney Morrison, PhD, has been a member of the Fairfield University faculty for several years, but also admits the transition to online learning was challenging.

“Our counseling program has always been in person and very communal,” said Dr. Morrison. “I didn’t know how I would deliver it or how students would receive it. I found I relied heavily on my understanding of a person-centered counseling model, in which I act as facilitator of students' learning, while creating a safe space for students to hear each other and participate.”

Through this model, Dr. Morrison cultivated respect, positive regard, safety, and a genuine space for students to grow and learn. “Within that model, students hold each other accountable, and they hold me accountable to provide teaching and learning in a safe space.”

The Need to be Flexible

“While nothing takes the place of being in a class,” said Michael Regan, PhD, NCSP, associate professor of the practice in school psychology, “you get more conversation, more of a vibe.” Yet when he evaluated his students at the end of the year, “their progress was exactly as I would have anticipated if they had been in person. I believe they’re all well-prepared to go off into the next phase of their training,” he said.

Dr. Regan had to get creative when it came to teaching psych evaluations, which have to be administered in a standardized manner. Because of the restrictions in schools, this standard protocol was broken. “This put a greater burden on students’ clinical acumen, their observation skills, and the patient’s background information in order to substantiate test results.”

Former elementary math teacher Nicole Fletcher, PhD, assistant professor of educational studies and teacher preparation, made adjustments of her own when it came to creating field work experiences for her students. Normally, students in education are required to observe in the classroom, then write up and teach a lesson of their own. However this year, grade schools were online or hybrid and privacy issues kept most school systems from allowing observers to log on remotely.

In order to give her students a comparable teaching experience, Dr. Fletcher collaborated with math educators from other institutions and adapted a classroom routine called Number Talks for online use. Students each facilitated two Number Talks with grade school students, presented a sequence of problems, and facilitated a conversation in which young students discussed their mathematical thinking and solution strategies.

“I learned how to create a classroom environment in a virtual setting,” one student noted. Another commented that there was a positive side to the year’s challenges. “I think curveballs make us stronger teachers, and [conducting lessons] online only gave us more ways to be able to teach.”

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