Dr. Karen Feathers took up running last semester, but it wasn’t through her neighborhood or on a treadmill.
She was sprinting back and forth between three classrooms in Longwood’s Hull Education Center, making sure that all of the students in her undergraduate special education classes were able to have their classes in person.
Feathers taught three classes last semester, all of them enrolled with too many students to fit in one, or even two, classrooms and still maintain social distancing. So she requested two additional classrooms, split the students for each class into three groups, and outfitted each classroom with technology that allowed students to see and hear her, and their fellow students, when she was in one of the other classrooms.
It made me realize that I learn from my students. I have to listen and find out what they need. I learned the importance of being flexible and paying attention.Dr. Karen Feathers Tweet This
According to the Apple watch Feathers received as a birthday gift from her children, she put nearly 60 miles on the flats she wore to teach in each day.
“I was literally running from classroom to classroom,” she said. “I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure in the beginning how it was going to work, but I just knew I had to figure it out. I wanted to be there in person. I wanted all of my students to be able to come to class every day and to be able to learn together.
She added with a chuckle, “I did lose some weight this fall, so that was a positive, too.”
Feathers is just one of many Longwood faculty who got creative last semester to make sure their students were getting the best educational experience possible under the circumstances.
It’s my job to do whatever I have to so my students have a meaningful and impactful experience no matter what’s standing in the way.Jacob Dolence, Honors Faculty Scholar in the Cormier Honors College for Citizen Scholars Tweet This
Jacob Dolence also saw last semester as a challenge to his creativity—and he was up to the task.
“It’s my job to do whatever I have to so my students have a meaningful and impactful experience no matter what’s standing in the way,” said Dolence. Normally he takes his Recreation 340 and 375 classes to Wintergreen, the James River and other out-of-town venues for outdoor adventures including rock climbing, canoeing and orienteering.
Last semester, the pandemic ruled out traveling and large-group activities.
“It’s neat to re-envision what kinds of activities students can be doing, and Farmville has so many opportunities for outdoor education,” said Dolence, the Honors Faculty Scholar in the Cormier Honors College for Citizen Scholars.
So the students in his lower-level class learned to make rock-climbing knots and hitches using old ropes that Dolence cut into shorter lengths and distributed for them to use at home. They also practiced their hiking and orienteering skills at High Bridge State Park, the trail at Wilck’s Lake and other nearby recreation areas.
In the higher-level class, students gave some serious thought to improving the user experience at local recreation areas, analyzing accessibility and getting input from park rangers. Plans are to present their findings to the state director of outdoor recreation.
Students also learned technical skills useful in wilderness areas, including water purification and first aid, and delved deeply into theories around environmental ethics and the role of citizen leaders in the outdoors.
“What’s most exciting about this new model is that I tied it into the Civitae core curriculum mission and asked our students to give back to the community by envisioning what the future could be for outdoor recreation infrastructure in the area,” he said.
It’s a give and take in the teaching world. If you’re not giving students the best tools, then they’re not going to do as well and you’re not going to do as well.Dr. Adrienne Sudbury Tweet This
In Dr. Adrienne Sudbury’s micro- and macroeconomics classes, technology took pop quizzes to a whole new level as a way to boost student engagement.
Using a game-based learning platform called Kahoot!, Sudbury could pop quizzes into her classes at any time. With half of her students in class and half learning remotely on alternating days, the technology made it possible for all her students to participate in real time on a variety of devices and compare their answers with their classmates’.
Sudbury also mixed it up when it came to counting the tests toward students’ grades.
“Most of the time I used them as an assessment tool to make sure everyone was up to speed. I did sometimes count them as a participation credit, and occasionally they counted as a quiz grade that factored into their final grade,” she said.
She also used the annotation feature in Zoom to simulate what students might normally do on a white board, and she set Zoom to record her lectures so that students could go back and listen to them again. She also gave students the opportunity to meet with her individually via Zoom.
“With social distancing and everyone having their faces covered, it was harder to make a connection,” she said. “Setting up those one-on-one conversations, I was able to build relationships with students that I could then bring into the classroom. ”
In her special education classes, Feathers relied more than usual on small group projects to get her students to engage with each other and with her. Feathers said the increased communication allowed students to share their ideas about improving the learning experience—and she listened. It’s one of the most significant things she will carry forward from last semester.
“It made me realize that I learn from my students. I have to listen and find out what they need. I learned the importance of being flexible and paying attention,” she said.
Sudbury agreed that listening and responding to feedback from her students was an important takeaway from this semester, a revelation that came early in the semester when students in one class didn’t do well on their first test.
“We had a heart to heart. I asked them what I could do to make things easier for them,” she said. As a result of that conversation, she moved up the deadline for the take-home portion of the second exam—an anti-procrastination measure—and “grades improved by a large margin.”
“It’s a give and take in the teaching world,” said Sudbury. “If you’re not giving students the best tools, then they’re not going to do as well and you’re not going to do as well. I definitely did more of that this semester than ever before, and I definitely intend to continue.”