When students and faculty wrapped up their final classes before spring break, they had no idea it would be the last time that they would gather in person. In response to the growing threat of COVID-19, CDC guidelines for social distancing and ever-changing local ordinances, University leadership made the difficult decision to complete the semester online.
Spring break was extended for students by one week – but for faculty, that week provided the necessary time to adjust expectations, shift gears and rework curriculum to be taught online. One only has to look at recent data from the University’s Information Resources Division to see that adjustments truly have been made. In February of this year, UIW employees and students recorded 1,616 Zoom meetings. Since April 1, that same population has recorded more than 18,000 Zoom meetings.
“Remote delivery of instruction was something I didn’t ask for, but is a concept I’m embracing more and more each day,” said Dr. Brett Richardson, UIW director of bands and music education coordinator. “Every morning I reflect on my own mission as a UIW faculty member during the era of coronavirus… that I have to do ‘what I can to meet my students’ needs, remain compassionate, not overburden them with needless assignments, and keep the material as relevant as possible.’”
Dr. Richardson, along with many professors whose fields of study are difficult to be recreated online, was faced with the particularly challenging feat of teaching music virtually. Still, he’s found a way to provide instruction even if his ensemble can’t rehearse together.
“The students are doing well submitting video assignments and attending synchronous learning sessions over my material in Conducting,” he explained. “I have reinvested time that I would be spending in my band ensembles into one-on-one meetings with each student to address their individual concerns over Conducting concepts.”
Despite the limitations felt by faculty and students all over the world right now, many are still finding ways to provide unique experiences for students – some that may not have been possible in a regular classroom setting.
“Zoom makes it possible to include long-distance guest lecturers,” said Justin Bennett, UIW associate professor of Theatre. “[This week’s] class on entertainment rigging was led by Steph Wasser, associate technical director at Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Entertainment Technician Certification Program (ETCP) certified rigger. I’m using Zoom both synchronously and asynchronously. Teaching live on Zoom allows real-time interaction with students and maintains the sense of community that is so important to them. Posting lecture recordings along with supplementary materials also allows greater flexibility for students whose current circumstance may not permit them to attend the live Zoom meeting.”
All in all, the overwhelming sentiment among UIW faculty is that while this arrangement may not be ideal, and students are terribly missed, these unforeseen circumstances won’t stop them from finding ways to do what they do best – teach… no matter the platform.