COVID-19: Bellarmine faculty cram to learn online teaching tools

March 17, 2020

Over the past few days, Bellarmine University faculty have gone back to school themselves, learning how to conduct their classes online after the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) prompted the suspension of face-to-face instruction on March 12. 
Classes, which resume tomorrow, March 18, will be conducted online for the rest of the semester.
“Our number one priority is to keep classroom instruction as close to normal as possible,” Gabrielle Read Jasnoff, instructional design consultant in the Faculty Development Center, said in the online library classroom where faculty were receiving one-on-one help. Most faculty were planning to use Moodle, an online educational platform, for sharing things like lesson plans and assessments, and Microsoft Teams for its videoconferencing capabilities. 
“A lot of our faculty are still wanting to try to maintain some kind of face-to-face connection even though they are virtually distanced,” Read Jasnoff said. 
That’s what Mary Dehoff, an assistant professor of biology, was seeking help from instructional developer Janice Poston. “I think body language and non-verbal cues are important in delivering content, not just words and text,” Dehoff said, “but especially right now I want my students to have a sense of presence and reassurance. We have already developed such a great relationship in the classroom, I think it will be reassuring to them and give them a sense of peace knowing that that’s going to continue and that I am available to them.”  
Faculty members arrived with a wide variety of online expertise, Read Jasnoff said; one had never even used PowerPoint before. “But everyone has been really calm,” she said. “Everyone definitely understands the severity of the situation and everyone is being every flexible. They are just coming in and saying, ‘Here’s where we are, we understand, help us in any way that you can.’ That speaks volumes, not only to the institution but to our strategic purpose: keeping connected with students and making sure that learning continues.”
Dr. Greg Hillis, associate professor of theology and president of Bellarmine’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said that in every conversation he’s had with faculty about the online transition, “it’s all been about the students. Faculty aren’t worried about themselves; they’re concerned about student learning.”
The Distance Education team of the Faculty Development Center, led by Adam Elias, is also providing technical support to students, Read Jasnoff said. “Even though they are digital natives, they’re not necessarily academic technology digital natives, so they may or may not know how to use some of these tools,” she said. 
Bellarmine had a leg up over many institutions because the university was already exploring how to increase online options under the strategic plan’s emphasis on academic innovation, Read Jasnoff said. “We have faculty mentors in all departments who are teaching online. So not only are we providing support, but there is a lot going on behind the scenes with faculty helping each other,” she said. “That’s great for us, since we are only a team of three.”  
While response to the coronavirus is the focus now, Read Jasnoff hopes that increased use of technology will continue after the crisis has passed. “This is going to open up a big opportunity for students to collaborate and communicate with people who may not be face to face and still do group activities or group projects. We also have a lot of commuter students who aren’t living right here on campus who may find ways they can connect with instructors or one another. There are definitely going to be a lot of opportunities. Hopefully we will be able to get some silver lining out of this crazy situation.” 

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