BU Voices & Reflections: A Commitment to Student Learning (Part 3)
Boston University’s “Voices & Reflections” series is a collection of insights and experiences—shared via video, audio, poetry, and more—from those teaching and learning remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic this spring. BU’s leadership, faculty, students, and staff discuss their challenges and unexpected revelations and accomplishments. They highlight important teaching and learning moments and new educational opportunities, and share heartwarming experiences of students and faculty connecting with and beyond technology.
Part 3 of BU’s Voices & Reflections series features: Anne Donohue, College of Communication, Ernie Perez, Educational Technology, Miranda Xie, College of Communication, Class of 2021, Geoff Wilkinson, School of Social Work, Jana Mulkern, BUMC-IT, Shively T. J. Smith, School of Theology, Charles McGinn, College of Engineering, Class of 2023, and Megan Sullivan, College of General Studies.
The name of the course is Radio Newsroom. We typically meet 8 a.m.-noon on Tuesdays at COM and produce a newscast that we air live on WTBU at 11:30 a.m. The program, called News Brunch, requires students to generate all the interviews and preproduce in-person content, and I edit their copy. It is a real team effort, with students running in and out of sound booths to make calls and write stories and yelling for help from a classmate as show time looms.
I was so apprehensive that it would NOT work online. But thanks to Teaching Assistant Danny Roa’s tech-savvy diligence, it went off without a hitch.
Audio: WBTU’s First ‘News Brunch’ Broadcast via Zoom, March 17, 2020
For the March 31 broadcast, the newsroom staff were worldwide. One student was in Puerto Rico, one program host in Boston, and one host in London, with a report done by her while on spring in Barcelona. Another student previously lived in Italy, so she called folks there to get the mood, including a very nervous pregnant, soon-to-deliver mom. We now have two students in LA, one in upstate New York, one in Amherst, and maybe two left in Boston.
‘News Brunch’ Zoom Broadcast, March 31, 2020
For me, it all started on March 1st. I was already on the West Coast for the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative conference in Seattle. That day and in response to news about COVID-19, I started receiving emails that our team needed to create BU’s Working and Teaching Remotely webpage as soon as possible. By noontime that day, conference attendees received word the event was canceled. I quickly jumped on a flight back to Boston on the morning of March 2nd. From 30,000 feet in the air, I, along with many others from DL&I and IS&T, collaborated and got that page published.
Fast forward to March 9, when the Provost sent the get ready letter to faculty. We needed to plan how we were going to support faculty to move all their courses online and be able to teach remotely. First, we needed to survey faculty to see how well they knew the technologies that we would need to use, and secondly, we needed to find out if they had the right technologies at home to make it all happen. We also knew two things: this would be a huge undertaking, and we at DL&I could not do it alone. With the help of the Deans from each of the Schools and Colleges, one or more Remote Teaching Coordinator was appointed. Thanks to the hard work that we put into establishing a very effective and efficient tiered support structure with the Remote Teaching Coordinators (RTC), faculty have had someone in their college to lean on. Our first round of training was to trained the RTC in order help faculty move to remote teaching.
Moving to online classes has been a collaborative effort between students and professors. Some classes became more engaging because of the use of breakout rooms and the “raise hand” option in Zoom.
For me, I have some classes that were very hands-on in person and quickly adjusted to remote learning. Although it was challenging at first, we all quickly adjusted and have made it work in creative ways.
As someone with online teaching experience, I was familiar with working with Zoom. For many of my students enrolled on the Charles River Campus and in an off-campus program for part-time MSW candidates, it was not. The technical challenges of online learning and teaching have gone smoothly. Our IT help desk and the administrators and staff of SSW’s online and off-campus programs have provided fabulous support and deserve our ever-lasting gratitude. What I’ve found more difficult is not only adapting materials and shortening lesson plans for the online platform but, more importantly, adapting to the different learning needs of students.
Many students are handling tremendous stress, including loss of employment, food insecurity, unstable housing, and concern about vulnerable loved ones living elsewhere in the country. Maintaining a focus on learning has been challenging for them; some even question the relevance of their educational programs at this time. Other students actively miss being together in person and have insisted they want more time online than program administrators initially recommended for Zoom sessions.
Through shades of darkness in the thick of any storm, our BU community chooses to focus on the bright spots. Our current tempest is a horrific global crisis, yet the medical campus is bursting through foreboding clouds with inspiring rays of sunshine. BUSM, GMS, SPH, & GSDM faculty, staff, and students unite by collective missions to serve the underserved and provide exceptional care without exception for the health of all.
Our faculty are heroes on the COVID-19 pandemic front lines: MDs risking their lives to care for affected patients, epidemiologists studying the illness population, researchers working on a vaccine and a cure. Experts in their fields with more pressure than ever, they continue to carve time to don their faculty caps, still committed to their students and now teaching in the new remote learning format.
“Teaching to build community”— that is my goal every semester. How do I use ancient, religious rhetoric and writings to inspire students to become more curious about each other and the world around them while heightening their awareness and sense of ancient texts, contexts, and languages?
Leading up to the first day of remote instruction for my Introduction to the New Testament graduate-level course, I was concerned about my students. I created a podcast to acknowledge the moment and prepare them for our new learning space. My fears were quickly alleviated, however, because most of them logged onto our first Zoom session wanting to be present, engaged, seen and heard. We checked in with each other, held space for the uncertainties of the moment, and contemplated a meditation written by Howard Thurman called, “Keep Alive the Dream in the Heart.”
Welcome Video Delivered to Students Prior to Online Instruction
Being a freshman, I found the epidemic that suddenly arose certainly set me up with some challenges. Although, as we prepared for migrating to digital curricula, I found myself a lot less overwhelmed than I had anticipated. Certainly that was thanks to the support of my family, coworkers, and professors, but I do have to give credit to the university as a whole. Going ahead with the pass-fail program and enacting a new refund policy were uplifting developments for both me and my family.
To get to continue my job as teaching assistant was encouraging, while seeing my own professors bend over backwards to accommodate all of us was heartwarming. Yes, this whole ordeal has been quite the upheaval, but I am grateful for the surrounding of support I have.
As a Remote Technology Coordinator (RTC) I have re-learned how intrepid faculty and staff are. I always knew supporting student learning takes a village, but COVID-19 has given me the opportunity to re-learn this truth.
How Faculty Support Learning by Supporting Students
They reach out to 18-year-olds who are sad to have left campus, who are quarantined alone in a hospital room, or who live at home with a C-19 positive parent.
Knowing learning remotely can be lonely, they plan a “beach party” for an HU class on Baroque art, faculty ask students to don beach attire and mount virtual beach backgrounds.
They return the call from the LGBTQ+ student whose parents are not pleased they are home.
They post weekly Instagram pep talks.
They improvise with undergraduate researchers. For the student who can’t do planned lab work on isolating bacteriophage from the environment, they offer another option—writing a review of the history, applications, and current status of phage therapy—and meet by Zoom to discuss.
They receive thanks: “Your instructional video on how to use Zoom, frequent updates, and class adjustments have taken away any stress I had about this transition. I am touched by how much you care about us and understand our uncertainty and frustration.”