How one college created a set of pandemic-related courses

Now that the pandemic has entered another academic year, this work is expanding across many campuses in new and different ways. The other week, an innovative project came across my desk: the Pandemic Teaching Initiative at Northeastern University in Massachusetts.

A couple of things struck me as I watched what the faculty members put together. First, it is accessible to the public: academics from other campuses are welcome to use the modules, which include lectures, readings, and assignments. Each is specially designed to provide a week of material that can be incorporated into existing courses.

Second, the subjects cover a range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, from statistics to philosophy. “The stories we tell about epidemics and why they matter,” for example, examines how movies, novels and other media shape our perception of epidemics. “Why Markets Fail: The Economics of Covid-19” uses key economic concepts to analyze economic policy around the pandemic. “Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Closed Borders: How the Covid-19 Pandemic Affects Internally Displaced People” explains how the public health crisis has affected some of the most vulnerable groups of people around the world.

I spoke to Lori Lefkovitz, English teacher and director of the University’s Humanities Center, to find out how the project came about. Lefkovitz said the idea arose out of a conversation she had with Ronald Sandler, professor of philosophy and director of the Northeastern Institute of Ethics, shortly after the start of the pandemic. She had proposed that they do something about medical ethics at a time when hospitals were triage of patients due to an overwhelming workload. Instead, Sandler noted that several of his faculty members were creating lessons around the pandemic, and suggested they find out if there was similar activity across the College of Social and Human Sciences.

Both garnered support for the idea from various corners of campus and issued a call for proposals in May 2020. Would faculty members be interested in creating courses related to the pandemic? Lefkovitz thanked the directors for their willingness to offer financial and other support. Faculty members whose proposals were accepted received $ 1,500 per module or $ 2,000 for a group project.

By the start of this academic year, Northeastern had added more than 20 modules to the new library, involving all departments in the college, said Lefkovitz, who seemed a little surprised at how well it all turned out. “The spirit of collaboration and cooperation arose in part from desperation,” she said. A range of faculty members also participated, from endowed chairs to teaching professors. “I think it was therapeutic in some ways for our faculty,” Lefkovitz said, to be able to deal with the crisis in a tangible way.

She hopes faculty members on other campuses – as well as high schools and adult education programs – will use Northeastern’s material, designed for both consistency and accessibility. All are available on the Northeastern website, and each includes an introduction to the discipline as well as several lessons. “It’s extremely flexible,” she said. “People could plug them into existing courses, or they could create a pandemic course and use them all. “

In addition to spreading the word, Lefkovitz is keen to see how faculty members from the North East might team up with colleagues from other colleges and universities.

Has your department, college or campus organized a similar pandemic education initiative? If so, please write to me at [email protected], and your story may appear in a future newsletter.

How do you teach with the Covid?

Among the many challenges teachers face this fall is the possibility that they or a family member will contract Covid. Luckily for Jennifer Sims, she had planned ahead.

“My university had requested that we make all of our in-person course materials available online when students were required to be absent due to Covid,” wrote Sims, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. “So I put this in place at the start of the semester. The day before her school-aged daughter fell with the Covid, she had already planned to rotate her three classes into asynchronous childbirth if she had to be absent. Then Sims herself caught Covid and was happy to have a contingency plan.

So far, she noted, it has worked well. Her students have supported her and her colleagues help her by answering students’ questions for her on, for example, upcoming homework. Meanwhile, her daughter is feeling better, and Sims said she’s overcame the worst.

But her predicament made The Sims (and us) wonder: How are other people dealing with this problem? Some professors, she noted, have fallen so ill in previous semesters that they have had to apply for teaching release. Even if the situation isn’t that bad, restrictive illness policies, limited technology options, and the discomfort or difficulty finding colleagues to cover your classes can cripple people. And what about discussion seminars or active learning classes? Is it possible to teach them asynchronously, remotely, or through another faculty member?

If you are ready to share your story, we would love to hear it. You can either write to me at [email protected] or fill out this Google form. Please let us know how you’re doing, and we’ll report back on what we hear.

ICYMI

  • Georgia faculty members enter classrooms and laboratories in a public system without a mask or vaccine warrant. Read Emma Pettit’s story about how some grow back.
  • In this Twitter thread, Carl T. Bergstrom describes how he modified his course, which is normally heavy with active and in-person learning, so as not to penalize students who need or prefer to take online.
  • In this Twitter thread, Travis Chi Wing Lau explains why he made the difficult decision to move his in-person classes online, due to the increase in Covid cases and the associated stress among students.
  • In this the Chronicle board, Jane S. Halonen and Dana S. Dunn discuss how to bridge the generation gap to help today’s students get the most out of faculty feedback on their work.

A new virtual event

After more than a year spent largely in virtual classrooms, students crave campus life and the rich academic experience that comes with it. What does it look like now? And what lessons have colleges learned about creating an effective learning experience in such an uncertain environment, including hybrid and virtual classrooms? Join me on September 21 to host a virtual forum with four experts: Jenae Cohn, Flower Darby, Josh Eyler and Mike Truong. If you can’t, you can always sign up and watch it later on demand. We’ll see each other there!

Thank you for reading Teaching. If you have any suggestions or ideas, please feel free to email us at [email protected] or [email protected]

—Beth

Learn more about our teaching newsletter, including how to contact us, on the teaching newsletter archive page.



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