Wright State faculty work to strengthen online courses for fall semester

Better online courses and more online offerings will greet Wright State University students this fall semester thanks to the faculty’s strong response to training and their creative approaches to remote teaching.

In an effort to protect the safety and well-being of everyone on Wright State’s Dayton and Lake campuses, many students are expected to take many remote courses.

“The online courses are going to be even better this fall semester because faculty are more prepared to teach online classes, there will be greater use of online interactive technologies, and faculty are coming up with innovative ways to engage students while also making student connections in this online space,” said Lisa Kenyon, faculty director for the university’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL).

Because remote instruction has dramatically evolved and benefited from technology improvements, many classes, though remote in their delivery, will offer students a real-time, traditional classroom learning experience.

Wright State is planning for a fall semester that includes a combination of remote, flexible delivery, and safe, socially distant, in-person classes.

When Wright State moved to remote learning in March to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, CTL became a nerve center of instruction for remote teaching. During spring semester, CTL provided training and distance learning programs that enabled faculty to quickly transform their in-person courses to an emergency remote teaching mode.

Many faculty members continued to attend CTL sessions over the summer to prepare and further improve online teaching. Kenyon said the sessions were successful and well attended.

“The faculty are working hard to make this an exceptional experience for students,” said Kenyon, who is also professor of biological sciences. “It’s great to see the faculty excited about making online offerings better.”

The CTL workshops included general sessions on designing and developing quality online courses; a session on active learning using video tools that allow greater interaction among students to questions posed by faculty; a session on a social annotation tool that creates a chatroom among smaller groups of students to discuss assigned readings; and a session on alternative ways to assess the progress of student performance other than typical exam formats

“These are ways of trying to step outside of the box and make the experience meaningful to students,” said Kenyon.

Megan Rúa, assistant professor of biological sciences, is taking her ecology and evolution of disease course online.

“So much of the content in this course is super relevant in today’s COVID world so students really want to engage from the get-go,” said Rúa. “This is an upper-level course that attracts students from across the College of Science and Mathematics so one of the best things about it is how we can all come together with our different backgrounds to better understand disease dynamics.”

In the course, which addresses how pathogens spread through populations, students conduct simulations on population sizes, vaccination rates and the recovery and mortality rate of the hosts, and then discuss the outcomes.

To teach the course remotely, Rúa will use technology like Flipgrid that will enable students to record short videos of themselves discussing the results of their simulations and then respond to videos from other students in the class.

“I’m also integrating podcasts and short videos from the actual scientists performing the experiments the students are learning about so they can better place the research with the researcher,” she said.

The students will also use real outbreak data collected in July to predict the spread of COVID-19 given current regulations and then match that to what actually happens in October so students will get real-world experience understanding disease dynamics.

“If our predictions don’t match, then we have the opportunity to talk about why,” said Rúa. “Maybe there will be a new social distancing order put in place between now and then or maybe the mandatory mask order will be lifted again and cause an outbreak? Either way, the students will get a sense for what real disease data looks like.”

Erik Potts, instructor of mathematics, statistics and mathematics education, plans to teach all his fall courses online.

“It is very important for me to give my students their money’s worth,” he said. “So after many discussions and much debate, I decided that I could better engage students online. I felt the restrictions in place for on-campus learning would not safely allow the level of group work that I need in my classes.”

Potts will use online technology tools that will enable his students to work together in groups via “breakout rooms” as well as participate in lectures and whole class discussions with polls, chatting, voice, video and other platforms.

Potts is considering breaking his classes into thirds and having a small group meet with him live online every day.

“This way, I can be more attentive to their needs and get more interaction with each student,” he said.

On the other days of each week, the students will work on their own, watching recorded lectures, completing assignments and interacting with each other.

“So they’ll still be interacting with each other even though they are not together in the same room or online at the same time,” he said.

Creative projects of students in the Department of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures will focus on skills in content creation for social media, independent producing and creative work, said Joe Deer, the department’s chair.

“And we are definitely going to be adding and creating assignments that give them a lot of contemporary self-promotion skills that will hold them in very good stead as they go into their professional careers,” he said. “Their entrepreneurial and independent creative skills are going to be amplified many, many fold in this process.”

Deer also said course content from dance and singing to scenery construction and lighting will be sequenced during fall semester in a way that will enable students to develop important skills that might have normally been picked up in subsequent semesters.

“We are definitely doing deep research on how to hold in-person performance classes safely and working as well on creating hybrid modes to allow that,” he said.

In October, the department will partner with WYSO Public Radio to present a localized version of Orson Welles’ “The War of the Worlds,” the 1938 radio drama that caused panic among listeners who did not know the Martian invasion was fiction.

“We’ll utilize all the old practices from classic radio, including live sound effects, actors playing multiple roles, live music — all created in WYSO’s studios,” said Deer.

At Lake Campus, which serves a much smaller student population, 82 percent of the courses offered fall semester will be totally online. The other 18 percent that will be either in-person or a hybrid in-person/online mix are courses that could not be effectively taught remotely, such as some nursing classes and biology labs.

Some introductory courses – taken primarily by incoming freshmen – will be offered as in-person classes.

“I think the incoming freshmen are really looking forward to the university experience as a whole,” said Chuck Ciampaglio, director of the Lake Campus Science, Math and Engineering Unit. “I think the first experience that freshmen need to have is being able to interact with their professors, lecturers and instructors.”

Four large classrooms have been converted to safely accommodate about 30 students, each sitting at least six feet apart and separated by plastic shielding.

In the upper-level courses, students can either opt for in-person classes or take the class online, either live or recorded.

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